Myself and three other Toronto bloggers – Michele, Chandra and Wendy – were sent an email last minute inviting us to a bookstore tour organized by INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair and Toronto Tourism. The tour was for the bloggers from outside the city (and country!) who were flown in specifically for the fair. We got to share our city with Ana & Thea from The Book Smugglers, Jane from Dear Author, Liz from Tor.com, Kelly from Book Riot and MaryAnn & Gabby from Chapter by Chapter who were all awesome and kind people. Honestly, getting to know these ladies for the four hours we were together was just as much fun as visiting the stores. It was nice discussing the blogging community in Toronto and comparing it to the communities of where the bloggers are from. You don’t realize sometimes how isolating it can be when you live in a place that isn’t a major city and may not have as many book events to go to or fellow bloggers to interact with. I always say that meeting with authors, publishing professionals and especially bloggers in person re-energizes me and what I do. It can get exhausting and lonely when you mostly engage with people online so it was great to swap experiences but also have a great time being book lovers first and foremost.
Despite growing up in Toronto, I don’t actually frequent indie bookstores as often as I would like so this tour was just as insightful for the Toronto bloggers as it was for the out-of-towners. Our tour guide was Michael Kaminer who wrote a piece for the Washington Post on his favourite Toronto bookstores and for each store we got a rundown of the store’s history, the demographic that shops there and how they cater to that demographic through the books being sold and the service. Out of the 8 bookstores (we ended up only going to 7), I’ve been to only two previous to the tour. I’ve been to the BMV Books located between Bathurst and Spadina. It’s one of three BMV Books stores and the biggest bookstore for used and discounted books in Canada. That’s where I recommended the Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction and David Aja to Michele who immediately bought volume 1 and loved it.
The second store was Bakka Phoenix. Its name, Bakka, is a reference to Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Phoenix was later added when the store was under new ownership. Specializing in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the bookstore has had writers as former staffers such as Tanya Huff, Cory Doctorow and Robert J. Sawyer with some as current staffers like Leah Bobet. After multiple moves, the store has no intention of leaving its current location at Harbord Street and Spadina since it now owns the building it’s in. This isn’t always the case with indies. I’ve gone there countless times for book launches and just to browse with my book loving friends. I can vouch how awesome the staff is there!
Our morning actually started at Book City which – I’m embarrassed to say – I haven’t visited prior to this tour. It’s been operated by a family going back
four generations of book selling and caters to a more older demographic given the area which includes an old age home as well as some traffic from the businesses in nearby. It’s one of four locations in the city.
We then headed to BMV and then Ten Editions right after that. We were told that Ten Editions is actually in reference to the founder’s ten children and it was filled with rare and used books which gave the place the musky old book smell.
We departed Ten Editions and walked a two blocks towards Bakka Phoenix before heading down a few store fronts to Cavernsham Booksellers. I never knew there was a bookstore dedicated to just mental health and it frequently gets psychology majors, professors and the occasional individual curious about their mental wellbeing.
We didn’t get the chance to go to Parentbooks so we headed over straight for Willow Books which I would have never found on my own. It’s tucked into a corners and looks small from the outside but is much bigger on the inside (like the TARDIS!). It has new books, rare books and obscure books. That’s where I saw a Betamax for the first time which is essentially a miniature version of a VHS before the VHS came into existence. Ana from Booksmugglers read the synopsis of Paul Gallico’s Love of Seven Dolls which cracked us up and eventually went home with her so I’ll be looking out for a review of that.
After leaving Willow, we made our way to the last stop on our tour: Seekers Books. Another hidden jem, Seekers is known for books of the spiritual nature with an owner in a matching zen mood. The store also has a selection of comics, young adult etc and believes in the motto that the books find the readers.
It was an exhausting experience but also wonderful and I plan on stopping by these bookstores again soon. In the meantime, I’m going to pass out. Check out my full recap of the INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair over at Women Write About Comics.
— A. A. Omer