My favourite bookstore is Book City. Well, it’s my favourite place in Toronto for new books now. From 1990–1993 I worked at the Reader’s Den, which used to be down on Bloor Street across from Philosopher’s Walk where there’s now an egg restaurant (it was even a Book City for a little while, way back when), and that’s my favourite bookstore in some ways. Anyone who’s been to the Strand Bookstore loves it, and there are great new and used bookstores in every city, but that’s different. My favourite used bookstore in Toronto is Sellers and Newel. Anyone who likes really books is going to have a list of favourite stores. But if I need a book in print now, I go to Book City.
I’ve mentioned them before, most importantly in 2015 when I showed a gift coupon I got on my birthday (for privacy I lied about my birthday, of course, but it’s my Book City Birthday) and described how the 2014 closure of the Bloor Street branch made me stop buying from Amazon. (Since then I think I’ve used it four or five times to get through to other vendors, for example to buy audio recording equipment, but I’ve never bought a book from Amazon.) There was also in 2014 when a clerk was selling John Williams’s Stoner to a customer (I couldn’t finish Augustus and later deaccessioned it) and in 2018 when I ordered Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style from them.
I reckon I buy at least two books a month from them on average. About one is a special order: I email and say, “Can you please get this book for me?” and they say “Sure!” and a few days or weeks (or months!) the book arrives and they email and I walk over and get it. It was great. We all got to recognizing each other and chatting a bit and sometimes they’d recommend new titles. All the staff there are top notch bookstore people.
But these days the store is closed. I can’t drop in and browse the shelves and tables. Happily, online orders and sidewalk pickups are possible. I emailed to see if they could do special orders for a few things I want, but they said no publishers are shipping anything, so that was out. That wasn’t going to stop me, though. I sent over a list of a few titles I had on my mind. They had all of them! I paid over the phone, then today walked over to pick them up.
This is the storefront. It’s the Yonge Street branch, just south of St. Clair.
What happens is you phone when you’re close to say you’re coming in to pick up your books. When you get there, you wave and they see you, and they come to the door with a bag holding your books. You stand behind the yellow line. They unlock the door and leave the books on the pavement, then retreat and lock the door. You move ahead and get the books.
Everyone waves and smiles, happy at seeing a familiar face, happy that a bookstore is selling books, but sad at the whole damned situation and the state of midtown Toronto life—which could be a whole hell of a lot worse, absolutely, and people are dying all over the world, but for some of us being able to browse bookstores and libraries is truly fundamental to a happy life.
I got a nice heavy bag of books. Inside were:
- I Used to Be Charming by Eve Babitz (who’s had a incredible life; I have another book by her but haven’t read it yet)
- The Lives of Lucian Freud by William Feaver (a great painter and another incredible life)
- The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan (his earlier book The Silk Roads was excellent, and I want to know more about what China is doing now)
- Ottolenghi Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi (so I can try some new recipes; a friend dropped off some za’atar)
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (recommended by a friend given the covid-19 crisis)
Support your local bookstores. Support all your local stores. Online shopping and home delivery is important, absolutely, but the bigger Amazon gets the worse the world gets.