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Bookstores

Monkey's Paw

Posted by Tim / Posted on September 16, 2008

Monkey's PawMonkey's Paw is unlike any other bookstore in Toronto. There's no Harry Potter or Suzanne Somers Eight Steps to Wellness here. Instead, the shelves are a treasure trove of the rare and the bizarre with titles like Indian Police Today, Why China Has No Inflation, Artificial Impregnation, Cocaine Changes and Understanding Japanese Bantings.

Located in the old Carte Blanche digs on Dundas, just west of Ossington, Monkey's Paw was opened in March 2006 and named after a cheesy early-20th century horror story by W.W. Jacobs. The moral, or message, of the story is Careful what you wish for.

Owner Stephen Fowler figured that at a shop like Monkey's Paw, you'd never find the book you were looking for; but you might well find the book you didn't know you were looking for. Get it? So, don't go here looking for anything. Just go, browse the shelves and be amazed at what you'll find.

Monkey's Paw Toronto

Even when the store is closed it's worth a visit. Fowler regularly rotates some of the most random titles in stock in the front window. Definitely makes for an interesting conversation piece after stumbling out of nearby Communist Daughter at 1am.

He also updates the store's blog on a weekly basis with some of the new and strange titles in stock. Customizing Your Van circa 1983 anyone?

For more details on the store, keep reading for my short Q&A with owner Stephen Fowler.

What distinguishes Monkey's Paw from some of Toronto's other bookstores?

We stock primarily odd, obscure, overlooked, and forgotten books. Other stores usually attempt to carry established classics; we look for books which are specifically NOT classics.

We select our stock according to an aesthetic formula: the beautiful, the arcane, the macabre, the absurd. We try to make sure that every book fits one of these descriptions...and the ideal Monkey's Paw title fits all four.

We also take into account the books' artifact value. In other words, we look at old books as not just texts, or collections of images, but as cultural artifacts in their own right: snapshots of their cultural moment, printed on paper, and gathered in bindings.

We try hard to offer good service...no bored, condescending staff. We'd like to convert the uninitiated, rather than exclude them.

Monkey's Paw Dundas

Who is your typical customer?

We get lots of graphic designers, artists, journalists, grad students, and info-damaged postmodernists. Most are younger than the shop's proprietor.

What sort of events do you have at the store?

We've had a site-specific poetry contest (the "Detournement Tournament," where participants were challenged to compose texts using only the titles of books in the shop); a site-specific art show; and a few parties. We've also had a garage sale (thousands of books, nothing over $2) for the last two summers.

Anything else you'd like to a share?

A friend of mine who works in academic publishing said of my shop, This isn't a bookshop, this is a gift shop that sells books. This was probably meant as a slight dig, but frankly I'm comfortable with the characterization. Very likely the same statement could apply to any solvent bookshop in the 21st century; and I for one am honored to help discover a new role for old media in people's lives. Besides, who wouldn't be delighted to receive as a wedding present a 1940s clothbound edition of Van de Velde's Ideal Marriage, Its Physiology and Technique?

Monkey's Paw Aircraft Book

Monkey's Paw Bantam Book

Monkey's Paw Books

Monkey's Paw Bugs

Monkey's Paw China

Monkey's Paw Cocaine

Monkey's Paw Bookstore

Discussion

11 Comments

mmmmmmmmmmmmm / September 16, 2008 at 10:40 pm
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Tim, I like your posts!! Your art store list this morning was top - and now Monkey's Paw - which I always admire the window display from the outside (b/c it's always closed when I go by) - but now will def. go in!
chase / September 17, 2008 at 01:43 pm
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I'll definetely check it out with this article - keep em coming !
mmmm / September 17, 2008 at 09:07 pm
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This is an treasure trove of overpriced items. There are lovely bookstores with rare and delightful item at fair prices in the downtown core, but this aint one of them. The idea of paying 25 dollars for a curio that probably was bought by the bookshopkeeper for 25 cents from the distraught relative of a deceased book collector is repugnant. The arrogance of Mr.Fowler is astonishing and his sense of entitlement of lamentable. I suppose that there is no shortage of pretentious "artists and designers" to support this shop but I will do my best to spread the word.
sue q public / October 9, 2008 at 06:05 pm
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Ouch m4. Indeed a treasure trove,but I found no issue at all with the pricing for sale NOR with the price I was offered and took for a rare ish book I took in to sell.Delightful and rewarding process. I have bought and sold books around the globe for over 30 years and found this transaction to be "by the book" pardon,with the only exceptional difference being I have not EVER seen such a nicely pulled together collection and presentation in good old boring Canada. Monkey's Paw is clearly the effort of someone who is more interested in offering the unique and rarely seen, whether it has a defineable price in the marketplace, or not. I am very happy with "Paper Sculpture, Construction and use for Window Display,Advertising,Decoration,Education" by Arthur Sadler and "Mrs. Rorer's Ice Creams,Water Ices and Frozen Puddings" Thanks Mr. Fowler, see you again. Good times.
Unpretentiously yours,Sue B.
P.S. I can smell arrogance a mile off, didn't catch a whiff.
alex / March 26, 2009 at 10:06 am
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... there goes the little known secret.
John H / June 13, 2009 at 04:51 pm
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"The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs cheesy? I should say it was a classic of the genre...
Henry / June 19, 2009 at 12:21 am
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Hi there.
I would like to buy "Why China has no inflation"
Is that possible?
Jerry Kitich / December 1, 2009 at 10:19 am
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Closed on Mondays & Tuesdays but it look good from outside :) I'll have to go when it is open.
Scott / March 21, 2012 at 10:33 am
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I disagree. I called and was provided with excellent service over the phone. It made me want to visit the store.
Lejla / May 5, 2012 at 12:22 pm
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I LOVE this place. I picked up a delightful book titled "The Searchlight Home Making Guide", published in 1949 (I think... Sometime in the 40s, regardless) and it really is a curious artifact of the time. It was in excellent condition and a perfectly reasonable price for something like it.

I found Mr Fowler perfectly polite and I'll return to his curious shop again and again for a browse.
mauro azzano / July 7, 2013 at 01:05 am
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OK, I'm completely hooked!
Next time I'm back in T.O., I'll HAVE to swap old typewriter stories with you.
You may be interested in a book of mine; on the surface, it's a regular murder mystery. On the other hand, it's set in 1973 Toronto, and it tells the story of a Saskatchewan Metis who becomes a Toronto police detective.
It's called "The Dead Don't Dream". Let me know if you like it. Next time I'm in Toronto, I'll autograph it for you.

Cheers,
Mauro.

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