GRACE NOTES - NOVEMBER 2022

Fall is the perfect season for a road trip, and for stocking up on books for the cold months from your favorite local indie. I took to the road a few weeks ago for a whirlwind Great Lakes independent bookstore tour that took me from Detroit to Toronto to Buffalo and places between. I visited 10 stores in 6 cities in 4 days. Whew! So many great shops, each with its unique flavor. Here’s my travelogue:

I start out in Detroit with a stop at Source Books on Cass Avenue (http://www.sourcebooksellers.com/). I was greeted by the force of nature that is Janet Webster Jones. Janet had a long career as a librarian, then pivoted to bookselling in 1989. She opened Source in 2002. The store has recently expanded, and is a bright, airy community center with a focus on African American literature. Their children’s section is colorful and inviting.

I hopped across the bridge into Windsor, Ontario for a visit to Biblioasis Bookshop (https://biblioasisbookshop.com/). The shop is the retail arm of Biblioasis Publishing. Scarlet, the store manager gave me a warm welcome. The store has a great selection of recent titles and backlist, fun sidelines, and a used book annex in the back. Dan, the store owner, gave me a tour of the publishing office, just a few blocks away from the shop. The staff treated me like a rock star.

Dan encouraged me to continue down Ottawa street to Juniper Books (https://www.juniperbooks.ca/), an absolutely adorable used and rare bookstore situated in a quaint old house. It’s as warm and cozy as can be, with each room exuding its own atmosphere, from spacy sci-fi in an upstairs alcove to a kitchen brimming with cookbooks (some even displayed in the sink!) I could have talked books all day with Suzanne, the bookseller at the desk, but had to get on to my next stop….

…which was Bookshelf in the arty town of Guelph (https://bookshelf.ca/). This spacious shop/cinema on a bustling street has a great selection of social justice books, works by Indigenous authors, and some wonderful sidelines, including a small but rich selection of wines, some locally produced. Plus, what could be a better way to cap off your evening date of book browsing than with a movie in the attached theatre!

On to Toronto. Anyone who says there are no independent bookstores anymore has never been on Roncesvailles Avenue. My son, a Toronto resident, took me on a tour of this little mecca in the big city. In the space of just a few blocks, we visited three great stores, each with its own character.

First up was Another Story (https://anotherstory.ca/). Their emphasis is on BIPOC writers and the selection is well-curated. Bookseller Leah was a cheerful, helpful host. When we visited, they were involved in a fundraiser for Call Auntie Clinic (https://www.callauntieclinic.com/), an Indigenous organization providing midwifery and other health services. The shop was selling mystery bundles, kids’ and Young Adult books wrapped in plain brown paper, for $10 each to support the clinic. (Ask Amazon to do that, and see the answer you get!)

Just a few steps down the street is A Good Read (https://www.agoodread.ca/), a warm, burnished shop with a beautiful rare and collectible book room. Gary, the proprietor, and Silas, the bookseller on duty, were friendly and welcoming. We shared stories about the challenges of bookselling in the digital age.

Nearby is She Said Boom (https://shesaidboom.ca/) a hip, laid-back place that is packed to the ceiling with  used books and an eclectic mix of used CDs and LPs. Mark was at the desk when we stopped in, and he gave us the lay of the land in this well-stocked destination shop.

We intended to take a break from bookstores to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, but got distracted first by the discovery of House of Anansi Bookshop (https://houseofanansi.com/pages/visit-the-anansi-bookshop) right next door to the museum. The spacious, airy shop is the bookselling arm of House of Anansi Press. They specialize in Canadian fiction and non-fiction, with an emphasis on children’s and young adult books.

I did not have time on this trip to visit one of my favorite Toronto institutions, Type Books, (https://typebooks.ca/), but definitely check out one or more of their three locations next time you are in Toronto. The staff is knowledgable and welcoming, and the selection of books and sidelines cannot be beat.

The next day, I crossed the border towards home, but there were still more stores to visit. Buffalo’s Talking Leaves Books (https://www.tleavesbooks.com/) is a busy, crammed to the rafters shop on a picturesque corner of the city. Their selection of LGBTQ+ literature is impressive, and the cluttered, casual atmosphere will warm the heart of any bibliophile.

Road-weary and on the home stretch, I managed to squeak into Pressed Books in Erie (https://www.pressedbooks.com/ ) about a half-hour before they closed. The store was buzzing with browsers perusing tables and shelves groaning with new books and an impressive selection of locally-made, Great Lakes-inspired gifts. Lively conversation bubbled out of the attached cafe. At four years in business, this was the newest store I visited. Jordan, a fledgling bookseller with six months under his belt, but the efficiency and professionalism of a veteran, rang up my sale. The store’s cafe was tempting, but it was closing time and home was calling.

My takeaway from this adventure was that it confirmed everything that I already knew about independent bookstores. Each is unique in its focus, but all of them are run by people who are passionate about what they are selling, who take joy in playing matchmaker between reader and book. Each has had the challenges of staying afloat against the tide of an online mega-corporation and have done so with grit, humor, and humanity. And each is a hub of community, a place where people gather to exchange ideas, to take a respite from screens, to connect on a human level. And all are worthy of your support.

REVIEW - How to Resist Amazon and Why by Danny Caine

In September, we had a reading and discussion with Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas. He was here to promote his expanded and updated edition of How to Resist Amazon and Why, a book that began life as an open letter to Jeff Bezos, morphed into a zine, and then became a full-fledged book. This new version is comprehensive in its indictment of the company that has built an empire on the backs of exploited workers, all the while invading the privacy of its customers. Caine cites horror story after horror story of workers being endangered and debased by unreasonable, inhumane working conditions. He writes chilling accounts of how data is gathered by not only the website, but by devices that we invite into our homes such as Alexa, Roomba, and Ring cameras. But the book is not just a take-down of Amazon. Caine has repeatedly stated that it is not his intention to shame Amazon customers, but to offer them ethical alternatives to virtually everything that Amazon has to offer. His interlude “On Delights,” about the small joys of daily life in an independent bookstore will warm even the coldest heart. It’s a timely, important read, written with conviction and compassion.

I picked up River Woman, a lovely book by Metis poet Katharena Vermette at House of Anansi while in Toronto in October. Here's a sample - 

lake

but in november when

waves freeze

into crooked

fingers

beckon us

out onto untouched

ground

 

in november when

the lake becomes

white with

rough mounds

like old graves

open

calling

 

PREVIEW - 

Coming in January -

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

This Other Eden is a achingly melancholy prose poem of a novel. Based on the history of Malaga Island (called Apple Island in the book), it is the story of a small, multi-racial community who lived peaceful, if squalorous lives on the island for generations before being evicted in 1912 by the state of Maine. Many of the residents were committed to a mental institution, and the bones of their ancestors were unceremoniously exhumed and dumped. Harding restores the dignity of the island’s residents by giving us fully fleshed-out portrayals of their motivations, aspirations, and desires. In sentences that spool out like gossamer thread, he weaves an intricate tapestry of the stark beauty of the island and the hardscrabble life of its residents, with all of its drama, pathos, and even a touch of wry humor. Readers who enjoyed Audrey Magee’s The Colony will find much to relish here.

 

Bookselling is an ancient trade. Click here to read about traveling booksellers in ancient Greece

Amazing bookstores are everywhere! If you, like me, are a literary traveller, add these to your bucket list. 

Click here to check out Joel Holland's charming drawings of bookstores in New York City.

As I write this, the war against Ukraine is still raging. Click here to read Ukrainian authors thoughts on the importance of literature in wartime.

 

Books: 
How to Resist Amazon and Why: The Fight for Local Economics, Data Privacy, Fair Labor, Independent Bookstores, and a People-Powered Future! By Danny Caine Cover Image
$14.95
ISBN: 9781648411236
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Microcosm Publishing - September 20th, 2022

River Woman By Katherena Vermette Cover Image
$19.95
ISBN: 9781487003463
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: House of Anansi Press - September 25th, 2018

Pre-Order Now Badge
This Other Eden: A Novel By Paul Harding Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9781324036296
Availability: Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - January 24th, 2023