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Where in Toronto: Paradise Lost, Bookstores Found

photo by Joel Shlabotnik

Each week, our intrepid interns reflect on life and times in the big city.

Okay, I admit. I’m a hoarder. I hoard books. Most of them I never fully read. They just line my bookshelf and are leafed through every now and again. Outside of my own library, the English major in me goes a little crazy whenever I spot one of my favourite titles. But it has to be a used copy. For me, there’s no charm in picking up a brand new book with an un-cracked spine from a giant retailer. That’s boring. Used books, on the other hand, are fascinating. They tell their own stories in addition to the ones in their text. I love the smell of old paper and the yellow pages and the crumpled corners. And if there’s an old inscription inside? Jackpot!

I live in Mississauga, and while there are some used bookstores in town, they are few and far between. Mainly, it’s big-box retailers or nothing. When I began work at Where Toronto, I inevitably started spending a lot more time in Toronto. And more time downtown meant more time to explore and more discoveries to make.

My adventurous streak, paired with my desire to add to my collection, brought me to Eliot’s Bookshop. It’s a charming little place at Yonge and Wellesley with three stories of used books and a classics section that would make any librarian drool.

So I thought, where there’s one, there are probably others. A little more exploration led me to BMV Books on Edward Street, near Yonge-Dundas Square. Though not exclusively a bookstore (they also carry videos), the selection was far too big and tempting to pass by. Thanks to the store’s clearly labeled sections and great prices, I found myself browsing even comics and poetry, genres that don’t normally entice me. I fanned through Paradise Lost and reminisced about countless fate-versus-free-will discussions from my University of Toronto days. The drama section, too, took advantage of my love for Elizabethan theatre and had me plucking works by Marlowe, Jonson and Shakespeare off the shelf.

I’ve since learned of many other alternatives to the giants, like independent Ben McNally Books in the Financial District. The sophisticated shop doesn’t sell secondhand books, but its elegant space showcasing hardcovers, author-signed first editions and more definitely does not disappoint.

I get it—books, on the whole, aren’t so popular anymore. People don’t read as much as they used to, and those who do are migrating to new technologies like iPads, Kobos and Kindles (an Gutenburg spins in his grave). Independent bookstores—particularly independent used bookstores—may be endangered, but I’m glad to know that they’re very much a part of Toronto’s cultural and small-business landscape. Hopefully there are enough yellow-page-sniffing nuts like me to keep these stores, and Gutenburg’s legacy, around for a long time.

Faiza Siddiqui

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