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Toronto’s Best Books, Bookstores & Book-Friendly Cafes

In a country well known for its literature, Toronto is a particular hotbed of bibliophilia. Pick up these Toronto-centric tomes at one of many bookstores, then peruse the pages at a neighbourhood café.

Type Books

Type Books

READ Stunt, the 2008 debut novel from playwright Claudia Dey follows sharp-witted Eugenia Ledoux from eccentrically residential Parkdale to the Toronto Islands to what is now the Distillery Historic District, on a search for her capricious father. More local cred: Stunt is published by Coach House Books, a city staple for nearly 40 years.

SHOP Owned by two women with doctorates in Canadian literature—Type Books (883 Queen St. W., 416-366-8973) is an indie success story with three shops across the city. The original Queen Street West location also features a lower-level art gallery, and all locations proudly feature many small-press titles.

SIP Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves add a scholarly touch to the eclectic ambience at Tequila Bookworm (512 Queen St. W., 416-603-7335). The artsy hot spot serves up a variety of caffeinated drinks, sandwiches and huge waffles to fuel your reading session. Weather permitting, grab a seat on the second-storey patio.

Balzac's Coffee

Balzac's Coffee

READ A British émigré who photographs 19th-century Toronto, and the efforts to recover his legacy in the 1990s make for compelling fodder for Michael Redhill’s Consolation.Detailing a number of sites that remain today, including the St. Lawrence Market, St. James Cathedral and the Georgian-style offices of Toronto Street, the novel is a paean to this city’s origins.

SHOP You might not find Consolation on the neatly packed shelves of Nicholas Hoare—its stock focuses on titles from the U.K.—but that doesn’t mean the venerable bookseller isn’t worth a visit. Ensconced in a historic Old Town Toronto building, the library-like setting offers a highly refined selection of fiction, biographies, travel tomes and more.

SIP The city’s past is also evident at Balzac’s Coffee, which is located in the Pump House of the more than 175-year-old Distillery Historic District. Sip micro-roasted Arabica, organic and fair-trade coffees within the lofty, exposed-brick space, then wander along the cobblestone streets and contemplate a bygone era.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe cover courtesy of Oni Press.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe (cover image courtesy of Oni Press).

READ Toronto gets the comic treatment in the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. While trying to win the heart of Amazon.ca delivery girl Ramona Flowers by defeating her seven “evil ex-boyfriends,” the title character finds himself at such T.O. landmarks as Casa Loma and Yonge-Dundas Square

SHOP Scott Pilgrim’s acclaimed creator, Bryan Lee O’Malley, once worked at The Beguiling (601 Markham St., 416-533-9168), so it’s fitting that the Annex-area comic shop stocks the series’ five available books. Thousands of titles make this store a veritable Mecca for enthusiasts of graphic storytelling.

SIP The inviting Annex is also home to sleek espresso bar Aroma, where you can enjoy a triple-layer mocha and nosh on fresh house-mad sandwiches and salads. Plus, free Wi-Fi makes it easy to email friends and family to tell them about your literary love for Toronto

Ben McNally Books photo by Lisa Myers

Ben McNally Books (Photo by Lisa Myers).

READ Though it begins in Poland and ends in Greece, a large portion of Anne Michaels’ poetic and elegiac Fugitive Pieces is set in this city. In addition to many local references, the impact of 1954’s Hurricane Hazel on the northwest Toronto region once known as Weston figures prominently in the Orange Prize–winning novel’s second half

SHOP Discriminating book buyers have a friend in Ben McNally, who doles out reading recommendations and other sage advice at his eponymous Ben McNally Books (366 Bay St., 416-361-0032). First-run hardcovers are the cream of the decidedly well-honed crop, and the selection of signed editions adds lustre to anyone’s library.

SIP With single-origin, direct-trade beans and a high-tech “Clover” press, Manic Coffee (426 College St., 416-966-3888) is an oasis for serious java lovers. If the café is too busy for calm introspection, order a cup to go, and head east for a stroll at the University of Toronto—another city highlight mentioned in Fugitive Pieces.

09-04-readshopskinREAD Michael Ondaatje’s beloved In the Skin of a Lion tells, in part, of the immigrant experience in early-1900s Toronto. Incorporated into the story are evocative passages devoted to the construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct and the cathedral-like R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant.

SHOP You won’t be hard pressed to find Ondaatje’s best-known works—or those by any other writer of repute—at Indigo. This chain of huge bookstores carries reading material on every subject imaginable, as well as hundreds of magazines, stationery, gifts and home decor items.

SIP Cross the Don River and make your way to Dark Horse Espresso Bar (682 Queen St. E., 647-436-3460). Grab a hot beverage and strike up a conversation about literature, travel, or anything else that strikes your fancy at the communal table of this preferred Leslieville spot.

One response to “Toronto’s Best Books, Bookstores & Book-Friendly Cafes”

  1. Hi , it’s Thanksgiving Day! I’m enjoying my extra day off, and I am planning to make something fun that’ll probably involve a car trip and seeing something new in Bryant I haven’t seen yet.
    You write new post at Thanksgiving?

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