August 29, 2013
Destination Bookshop is a new feature here at Pickle Me This! Part book-shopping-spree, part city travel guide, we want to inspire you to visit vibrant neighbourhoods all over Toronto with excellent bookshops as a chief attraction.
This time we bring you a neighbourhood we know very well, because it’s where we live. And part of the reason we love where we live is because the bookshops are aplenty. Keep an eye out for writers too, because quite a few of them make their homes somewhere just off Bloor Street. One of them is poet Desi DiNardo who honours the neighbourhood and its literary legacy in her poem Rainbird in the Annex.
The Shops: Begin at Annex Book City (501 Bloor Street West), which is my favourite bookshop in the world. They have a great mix of new releases, backlists, a beautiful kids’ section, bargain books, lots of poetry, and a great focus on CanLit. Their staff are great, and knowledgeable, and the store is really organized. Next, move along to BMV Books (471 Bloor Street West) which sells discounted and second-hand books on three enormous floors. Go south at Spadina until you get to Ten Editions (698 Spadina Avenue at Sussex), a used-book store where you get to climb up a ladder to bookseek in a most romantic fashion. The store is a warren, sometimes frustratingly, but there is a great Can-Lit section in the back. Turn right at Harbord Street, where you will find a whole host of bookshops. Bakka Phoenix specializes in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and is located at 84 Harbord. Wonderworks is across the street at 79 Harbord and is a new-age bookshop. Caversham Booksellers is at 98 Harbord, and bills itself as “North America’s largest mental health bookstore.” And then Parentbooks is located just before Bathurst Street in a cute little worker’s cottage at 201 Harbord. They have a fantastic kids’ book section, as well as books about pregnancy, parenting, and kids with special needs. Go north on Harbord to Little Island Comics (742 Bathurst), a wonderful children’s bookstore featuring comics, graphic novels, and remarkably-illustrated picture books. (Their parent-shop The Beguiling is located around the corner, just west at 601 Markham Street.) A few doors up is A Different Booklist (746 Bathurst), “opening the door to gems of the Canadian cultural mosaic.” And then hit Seekers Books back up at 509 Bloor Street, featuring more second-hand fare and lots of great kids’ book in the big room at the back.
Where to Play: We recommend the recently refurbished Margaret Fairley Playground on Brunswick Avenue, south of Harbord at Ulster Street. Even if you haven’t kids in tow, the new park features huge armchairs carved from tree trunks that would be perfect to curl up and read in. We do not guarantee you won’t get splinters, however… There are also picnic tables if you bring a lunch (see below). Sally Bird Park on Brunswick north of Harbord is a tiny little park featuring play equipment for grown-ups. There is lots of space to roam and explore on the University Campus, just east of the neighbourhood. If it is raining, go hang out at the Spadina Road Library just north of Bloor Street at 10 Spadina Road. And do check out Gwendolyn MacEwen Park on Walmer Road just north of Bloor, which features lots of pigeons and a bust of the famous Canadian poet
Where to Eat: We are partial to picking up a picnic lunch at Harbord Bakery (115 Harbord Street) and taking it to eat at Margaret Fairley Park. Or you can have lunch at By the Way Cafe (400 Bloor Street West), which has a lovely patio from where you can watch the world go by. Great ice cream too across Brunswick at Sweet Fantasies (398 Bloor Street, open only in the summer). Pick up a coffee and a snack at Red Fish Blue Fish Creative Cafe (73 Harbord Street). And if you’re craving something sweet, have a fancy tart from Dessert Trends Bistro (154 Harbord).
How to Get There: By transit, at Bathurst or Spadina stations. If you are driving, there is a Green P parking lot south of Bloor Street at Lippincott.
August 14, 2013
Destination Bookshop is a new feature here at Pickle Me This! Part book-shopping-spree, part city travel guide, we want to inspire you to visit vibrant neighbourhoods all over the Toronto with excellent bookshops as a chief attraction.
Ella Minnow Children’s Bookstore brought us to the Beaches one day in late July. Located on Queen Street East just east of Woodbine, the shop was definitely worth the journey and situated in a neighbourhood with so many excellent things to do.
The Shop: We were warmly greeted upon entering Ella Minnow, and informed that as this was our first visit, we should probably start at the back of the shop and work forward. This was especially exciting because it was in the back that we met the resident rabbit, a white bunny called Marshmallow.
The shop is well-organized, with books for older readers at the back and picture books and those for younger readers at the front. The feel is definitively maximalist, charmingly cluttered even. I love the worn wooden floor. Books are everywhere, displayed facing out and also by spine like a library. Stock is carefully curated for quality, and not a Disney princess in sight. Bewarned that the shop does sell toys, but they’re pretty good ones, and many are bookish tie-ins. I’m always up for a bit of Mo Willems plush.
They’ve got new releases, lovely hardbacks, vintage paperbacks (a wide range of Virginia Lee Burton, I notice approvingly) and a good selection of Canadian authors/illustrators and small presses. After some debate, we settle on Read Me a Story, Stella, the new book by Marie-Louise Gay.
Ella Minnow was a pleasure to explore, and we could have played all afternoon, but there was more to do…
Where to Play: Kew Gardens is a fantastic park just east on Queen Street. The park features an excellent playground with a fun climbing structure, beautiful shady trees, lots of room to rove and explore and so much going on–it’s quite the community hub. We made our way through the park down to the beach on the shore of Lake Ontario, and bumped along the boardwalk. On good days, the beach is great for swimming, though it was more of skipping stones day when we were there.
When you get back to Queen Street, make a wee stop at the Beaches Library, a beautiful building and one of the city’s historic Carnegie Branches.
And of course, there are plenty of fun and interesting shops along Queen Street.
Where to Eat: Attracted by a sign promising free ice cream with lunch sets, we had lunch at Thai House Cuisine (2213 Queen Street East), and it was delicious. Snack-wise, Ella Minnow is well-situated with a Dufflet Cafe next door and even a door between them–great for a cake and a coffee or tea. And don’t miss milk and cookies at Moo Milk Bar.
How to Get There: You can get to The Beaches by transit, on the Queen Streetcar (a [slow] adventure in itself) or by taking a bus south from eastern stations on the Danforth line. We elected to drive, however, as these days we travel with a baby and a ton of stuff. The trick of driving, however, is parking, which is hard to come by in the ‘hood, and also that the narrow, congested streets are busy and traffic is slow. This is one of those rare “it’s the destination, not the journey…” situations.
So what else are we missing? What other great things lie within the vicinity of Ella Minnow? Let us know in the comments in order to make Destination Bookshop all the more comprehensive.
August 13, 2013
During the last weeks of my pregnancy and in the six weeks after Iris’s birth, I wasn’t able to pick up Harriet, and when I was finally permitted to pluck her up again, there was no plucking about it–she’d become enormous. Part of this is actually true–I think a growth spurt took place somewhere around her fourth birthday. And the rest of it is that I spend my time carrying about someone who weighs just ten lbs, and so Harriet at four times the size really is quite large. Once in a while I become struck by her massive nostrils and monstrous thighs, a logical consequence of spending much of my time staring at parts that are baby-sized.
We have been lucky this summer that we’ve had as many parents as kids around all day so that Harriet has not had to suffer too much of a dearth of attention. Though her need for attention has certainly ramped up since her sister arrived, but I am getting the sense that things are settling down and in a few weeks, our whole lives are going to be constructed around Harriet’s school day as much as the presence Iris anyway.
But I have missed Harriet. This I wasn’t conscious of until our week at the cottage when Harriet was often at loose ends, and we ended up spending more time together than we had since the baby came. “Oh, this!” I thought as we worked on her sticker book, when we played “Motor Boat” in the water, had a rainy day picnic on our cottage floor. While I would never say that Harriet and I have a special bond that does not include her father, it is true that we spent most of her entire life together from 9-5, Monday to Friday. And it was very nice to spend that time together again. Nice for her, sure, but nice for me too. It had been awhile.
Yesterday, Iris was asleep in Stuart’s arms and I was suddenly compelled to visit the bookstore. “Come with me!” I asked, and she agreed once I’d promised to buy her a book to make the journey worthwhile. And so off we went, her hand in mine (which remains the greatest privilege of my life), her new purple boots on. We tramped up Brunswick to Bloor, and along the street to Book City, whose staff are some of the loveliest people around. Harriet walks around the store as if she owns it, marching right up to the carousel of paperback books she continually lusts after. The carousel of paperback books I usually never buy, because they’re not real books, I tell her. Not like the picture books proper on the shelf. Commercial tie-ins, I tell her. These books are only toys.
But while Harriet appreciates a good hardback as much as anybody, she is just as devoted to toys, so this argument doesn’t sway her. We buy books from the carousel from time to time, rooting past the Doras (which, thankfully, Harriet has never shown any interest in) and Thomas’s in search of something really good. But this time her attention was caught by a Superman I Can Read book–she is currently very much into Superheros, thanks to The Incredibles and her Daddy’s collection of Spiderman t-shirts. We looked through the Superhero books and I was ecstatic to find Wonder Woman. Harriet leafed through the book and was excited to see an illustration of her carrying a shield. “A shield!” she said. “They have those in How to Train Your Dragon.” There was even a dragon in it, plus the book was $5.
Wonder Woman is iconic in a way that Dora the Explorer will never quite manage to be, plus hers is the ultimate princess story: a princess who didn’t want to be a princess but chose to fight for justice instead. My distaste for commercial tie-ins is fickle. I was happy to buy Harriet that book, and picked up the book I had arrived for: How to Get Along with Women by Elisabeth De Mariaffi. I am also happy because Harriet is now obsessed with Wonder Woman–at 2:30am, Stuart went downstairs to her room and had to ask her to stop “reading” her new books, and go to sleep, please– which means that this morning’s outing will be to our local comic book store in search of a Wonder Woman comic. Two bookstore visits in two days! Harriet has also asked if she could please be Wonder Woman for Halloween, which is the best thing ever. And even better: Harriet asking if might it be more convenient if Wonder Woman fought the forces of evil whilst wearing pants. “Why does she have to wear her underwear?” she wonders, which is a very good question.
But the point of all this is not even books or bookstores, or Wonder Woman. It’s about the joy of walking down the street with my big girl, just the two of us. With all the changes in our lives, what stays constant is that she is excellent company.
March 22, 2012
Oh, we’ve had a good day. Sunshine , popsicles and a brilliant morning in the park with wonderful friends, after which Harriet went straight to nap without lunch (at her own request) and slept for 3 hours. And then we headed down to Queen Street West to Type Books where Kyo Maclear was launching Virginia Wolf and her novel Stray Love, which made it the perfect mother/daughter occasion. The event was great, with snacks (pocky!), music (Waterloo Sunset!), and company (my best friend, Jennie!, who took our picture). It was also nice to meet Kyo Maclear, whose work I’ve admired for a long time. And then Harriet and I took the streetcar home, which was fabulous because transit is Harriet’s favourite part of being alive, and the driver on the Bathurst Streetcar rang his bell for us! Also exciting, I thought, was that the entire Queen St. W. area smelled like farm, which was curious, yes, but mostly importantly, which Harriet recognized before I did, and how wonderful that my streetcar-riding city girl knows what just what a farm smells like.
February 5, 2012
On Friday, I read about the opening of Sellers & Newal, a new bookstore on College Street, and then hatched a plan for a Saturday morning book crawl. In order to make a “Saturday morning book crawl” attractive to my husband, I mapped out a route that involved stopping at Sam James Coffee Bar, and breakfast at the Lakeview. It was a sunny, gorgeous morning and felt just like springtime. The walk down to Dundas and Ossington was particularly lovely because we hadn’t seen the sun in ages.
After breakfast, we walked west on Dundas to The Monkey’s Paw, where I’d never been before but had heard so much about. It’s a bookstore of secondhand curiosities, and if we hadn’t had a monster child in tow (with a case of the “nearly-threes”), we could have browsed for ages. Highlights included vintage cookery books, a wall of Penguins, Toronto-health pamphlets on baby-rearing from the ’40s, a book by Shari Lewis on making puppets and several old typewriters whose Hs Harriet wanted to press. Old atlases, books about UFOs, goatherding and sex. The air was marvelously redolent with dustiness and books– “something smells funny in here,” was how Harriet so charmingly put it as soon as we walked in the door. I ended up getting a copy of Dennis Lee’s Garbage Delight, which I’d never read before but it turns out to be the best of all wonderful his picture book. (My favourite poem inside is “Worm”.)
Then we went to the new store, Sellers & Newal, and I browsed while Harriet (who had decided she wouldn’t wear shoes) was held captive in her stroller, and read to from Garbage Delight by her father. So many cool books here, and not much dust because the store is brand new (as well as bright and airy). Lots of good Canadian fiction, books on advertising, typography and graphic design, a set of Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, affordable paperbacks, collectable hardcovers, and a shelf that was built out of a coffin. Oh my! I was happy to get a copy of Steven Heighton’s essay collection The Admen Move on Lhasa.
And then finally to Balfour Books at their excellent dust-free, light-filled location near College and Bathurst. Which is where my family won the Patience Prize as they sat up at the front near the door (you can see them in the picture) and not once asked me if I was done yet. And because they were so considerate, I did my best to be done as yet as possible. I finally got my hands on a copy of Robertson Davies’ The Rebel Angels, which my friend Patricia has recommended, because she says that those of us who only read Fifth Business in high school don’t know Robertson Davies at all.
And by then it was nearly naptime, so to home. Harriet was wished good dreams, and I curled up on the couch and read and read and read (and knit).
October 17, 2011
By pure coincidence, this is my third post in a row dealing with islands and oceans. And this is an especially joyful post because the gist of it is that a new children’s bookstore has just opened up around the corner from my house. Little Island Comics is brought to you by the people behind The Beguiling, and is the first comic book store in North America catering exclusively to children. They cater not just with comics either, but also with a wide variety of beautiful books that seem to mostly just have gorgeous illustrations in common. We stopped by on Saturday and the store was full to bursting with children of all ages (and their parents). Though the big kids in the store seemed enthralled by the wares, we also found much to choose from for the Harriet set, and settled on a Tiny Titans comic, and Maurice Sendak’s new book Bumble-Ardy. Staff were approachable, knowledgeable, and thrilled with all the activity going on in the store. And there’s bound to be more of it– Little Island Comics has a space in the back where comic workshops and other events will be conducted. Check their blog to stay abreast of happenings. We’re looking forward to our next visit!
*Check out their profile from last weekend’s Globe and Mail.
April 11, 2011
That damn reflection really doesn’t do the window any justice, so I invite you to go see it for yourself instead. It’s the Royal Wedding Window at Good Egg in Kensington Market, and it’s a wonderful celebration of all things bookish, British, potty and teapotty. I loved it.
March 21, 2011
Our last vacation was in the land that books forgot, so I was excited to get away to England, the storybook centre of the universe. Whenever we go to England, we always come back with enough books to fill another suitcase (especially that one time), and this trip was no exception. Though I had less luck in the charity shops than I was hoping for– they used to be rife with 1960s Penguin Paperbacks but they’re all gone now, and now all that’s left are copies of Jenny Colgan novels that came free with a copy of Cosmopolitan. And the children’s books picks were rubbish in the charity shops, but I suppose I can imagine why the second-hand children’s book market might have its challenges.
The only books I ended up getting in charity shops were I Am Not Tired and I Will Not Go to Bed by Lauren Childs at the Oxfam in Ilkley, and Tyler’s Row by Miss Read at The Panopticon Shop in Glasgow (which is a charity shop to rebuild a theatre that burned down in 1938, and we sort of got turned off their cause when they made Stuart wait out in the rain with the pram). I also got a Brambley Hedge treasury at the Oxfam in Fleetwood.
And though I didn’t end up buying anything, the Oxfam Bookshop in Glasgow was beautiful– much more boutique than charity shop. It was in the same square as the massive old building (now vacant) that used to house Borders, and I was informed that the loss of that store had been a tragedy– it had been a wonderful place. We also had a good time in the Waterstones in Glasgow, which looked like not much from the outside, but as I rode the escalator down to the lower level, revealed itself to have this hidden middle section between the two floors, sort of like the half-floor in Being John Malkovich, and also a coffee shop, with made my reluctant partner in bookshopping a very happy man. We found the children’s section, and Harriet hurled picture books, and then ate part of a sandwich that she found on the floor.
I was thrilled to discover The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley, because independent bookshops are few and far between even in England, and also because this one was bustling. The store has gorgeous window displays, a great selection, and seemed like a thriving community hub. There was a line-up at the till, and another woman there to pick up her special order. I delighted in the selection of Penguin merch, and bought a tote bag, and also Old Filth by Jane Gardam (and now I have to read The Man in the Wooden Hat). I also like The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley because their website boasts a “fast and efficient ordering system [which] means the vast majority of customer orders arrive the following day.”
We spent our second-last day in London, and had scheduled bookshops a-plenty. I was so happy to have a chance to visit Persephone Books, and actually, I’m grateful that budget constraints forced a limit of one book only, or else I would have bought the place out. Their books are so lovely, the shop so homey (but crowded! With Persephone books! Can you imagine anything more wonderful?), and I wanted to paw everything. To keep my fellow-travellers happy, I’d pre-selected my purchases so there was less browsing than you might imagine, but if I’d started, I never would have left and would no longer have a family.
I also enjoyed visiting the London Review Bookshop, which was not too far away. The Cake Shop proved disappointing, sadly, as it was too small to accommodate Harriet’s stroller or Harriet, and was crowded with people discussing existential things who probably didn’t want to listen to Harriet talk about her bum. I bought The Tortoise and the Hare here, though I’d been debating another Rachel Cusk instead, being that day in the thralls of her book The Lucky Ones. And I am a little bit sorry now that I didn’t get the Rachel Cusk books, because she’s so great, and I never found another of her novels in a bookshop the rest of the time we were in England.
Under Waterloo Bridge, I was happy to see the booksellers again, as well as a bit of sunshine. I didn’t buy anything because nothing immediately struck my eye, and because Stuart and Harriet were being very patient but I didn’t want to push them too far. I am sure if I’d browsed just a little while longer, I would have come up with one treasure or another. (I also wonder if the fact that I found less treasures amongst the used books this trip is because it’s now been a few years since I bought everything Margaret Drabble ever wrote.)
We spent the rest of our London day at The Tate Modern, and I enjoyed exploring both its bookshops with their wonderful selections of children’s books. It was especially exciting to see Sara O’Leary‘s beautiful Where You Came From on display, amidst some fine company.
We spent our last day in Windsor, where I tried and failed to find a bookish treasure in the charity shops (including a wonderfully stocked Oxfam Bookshop, but everything good they had, I had already). We stopped in at the Windsor Waterstones and bought Harriet The Gruffalo and Alfie’s Feet, and I tried and failed to find a Rachel Cusk novel to buy, just as I would do the next day at the airport. Regrets, I’ve had a few.
But not too many. Our trip was full of bookish wonder. I arrived home with a most respectable stack, and what’s more, I’ve since read each and every one of them.
February 28, 2011
Today Harriet stayed home with her grandparents, and Stuart and I drove to Ilkley in Yorkshire (which is very close to Burley Cross country). I wanted to go to a Bettys Tea Room after reading Starting Early Took My Dog (which should probably receive a commission for our visit). Jackson Brodie certainly did not mislead us: if the Bettys girls ran the government, indeed, there would not have been recent economic disasters, or disasters of any kind. Tea was completely delicious, definitely the best we’d had since Saturday, and I was particularly in love with the woman having her breakfast at the table across from ours’ (“Anything else for ye, Vera?” they asked as she was preparing to go, as she tied a kerchief around her hair).
We had fun exploring the town afterwards, visiting the best butcher in Britain, and the Grove Bookshop, a fabulous independent bookshop whose business was booming. We got a steak and kidney pie at the former, and at the bookshop, I got a Penguin 75 tote bag, and Old Filth by Jane Gardam (which I’ve had out of the library twice, but have always had to return before I’ve had a chance to read it).
October 5, 2010
All right, used bookshop owners are always a bit strange anyway, so I won’t even start on the woman who, because it was hot that day, couldn’t locate a book she knew was in her stock. Or rather I will start on her, then stop there, and just say that this experience is pretty representative of my efforts to support my local independent bookshops. Where I go out of my way, and spend even more money than elsewhere so that I can help these stores remain in my neighbourhood (because what we would lose if they didn’t), and then the customer service is so absolutely abysmal and I wonder why I bother.
I am fortunate to have independent bookshops all around me where I live, and when I needed a book for our next meeting of the Vicious Circle, I made a point of ordering it from the more-independent bookshop than the other one. I know that ordering a book takes time (which is another problem. Why does it take 2-4 weeks to have a book delivered? As a business model, this totally sucks, and it has to be changed. It just does.), which might be another “why do I even bother?” scenario, but one I was fine with overlooking.
Today I went into the store to see what was going on, and once they finally located my title, I was told that it had been ordered from a distributor that didn’t have the Canadian rights. Somehow it had taken nearly a month to figure out this had happened, no one had gotten in touch with me about it, but they would be happy to place another order from the correct distributor, which would take another 2-4 weeks. Except I need the book on Tuesday, and I was just annoyed by the waste of my time and my effort– I could have had this book from amazon in days at a discounted prize, I could have bought it right off the shelf at Book City. And though I really want to support this other bookstore, why on earth would I ever order another book through them again?
Seriously, if you’re an independent bookshop and you can’t keep *me* as a customer, than there really is no hope for you. And that this doesn’t seem to bother anyone is totally depressing.