The Best Bookstores in Toronto
The best bookstores in Toronto are a mix of hopeful newcomers and survivors. Three of the top picks from when we first made this list three years ago - Pages, David Mirvish Books and This Ain't The Rosedale Library - have now gone the way of Britnell's, The Book Cellar, Longhouse, Edwards and Librairie Champlain into the deadpool of city book shops. Book retailing is a rough business, and with potentially transformative tech like digital readers joining old threats like online sales, it's a fair bet that our next list will be very different again.
It's worth noting that the top two slots this time around are taken by chains - modest, indie chains, but chains notwithstanding, one new, one venerable, each with a very different approach to book retailing. What the list underlines is the need to focus - most of the stores here are specialists, while the rest don't even bother trying to cast a broad net, preferring to leave that to the online shops and Chapters-Indigo, the bookselling monolith that's been blamed for so changing the face of Toronto book-buying and filling the deadpool in the process.
Here are the best bookstores in Toronto, as voted by readers of this site. Runners-up that almost made the list: Conspiracy Culture, Book Mark, The Flying Dragon. For a near comprehensive list of independent bookstores in Toronto (new and used), see our bookstores section.
Note: This list was previously published on February 19, 2008. Comments below made up until January 22nd, 2011 are in reference to the old list. We've purposely kept the archived comments here because we believe they (mostly) add value to this topic. If you don't want to have to wade through all of them, simply hit the "sort by newest first" link at the top of the thread.
With a location on Queen St. and in Forest Hill, Type makes a quick impression on patrons by selecting its stock with care and precision. A big bookstore can seem like a warehouse, while a small store attracts customers by making its shelves look like someone’s library – either yours, or someone you’d like to know. A fantastic selection of art books, and an epic children’s lit section means that Type had everyone from the urbanite aesthetes to the breeders hooked in one visit. More »
The little chain that could hooks you with the deals on its groaning remainder tables and keeps you with its discounted hardcovers and impressive selection of fiction and non-fiction trade paperbacks. The Book City customer is both frugal and well-read, and its various locations have an eerie way of seeming like scaled-up or scaled-down versions of the same store. More »
This architecture and design book shop migrated into the 401 Richmond gallery/boutique complex and probably found its perfect home. If you’re looking for an internet treatise, an architecture coffee table tome, or a really thorough study of a typeface, this is the place to go, and because design junkies also happen to be really into stuff, it’s also full of kitchenware, stationary and toys – all of it in the best of taste. More »
Before the Food Network turned us all into erudite foodies, the Cookbook Store was Toronto’s Mecca for enthusiastic amateurs and kitchen pros alike. From thick volumes on kitchen technique to the latest celebrity chef recipe book, this Yorkville shop is all focus and customer outreach, sponsoring contests, competitions and author signings on what often seems like a weekly basis. More »
Toronto’s sci-fi specialist bookstore has migrated all over the downtown, settling on Queen West twice before arriving on the edge of U of T with its walls of mass-market paperback fiction. Science fiction is as factional as soccer, with subgenres galore, but they’re all here, packed side by side, their colourful, metallic covers sporting enough swords and tentacled monsters as a ten-hour session of World of Warcraft. More »
Toronto’s gay and lesbian community’s bookshop has survived battles with censors in its early days to survive in its lookout over Yonge Street, its shelves filled with everything from beefcake to biographies. From pictorial histories of muscle mags to M/M romances to unlikely items (a bio of Grace Kelly!), Glad Day is still around because, like every successful bookshop, it knows its customers. More »
This left-of-centre bookstore moved from the Danforth to Roncy Village a few years ago, bringing along its eclectic merchandise and its very activist outlook. It’s adapted to its new location, mostly by increasing its selection of children’s books to sell to a neighbourhood known informally as Toronto’s nursery. More »
This Bay Street shop’s eponymous owner was once known as the face of nearby Nicholas Hoare, but struck out on his own with his own impeccably-stocked book shop, right in the heart of the business district. Everything in McNally’s store feels like it was considered long and hard before being ordered, though his non-fiction section is a real standout, piquing idle interests you might not have known you had to dig deeper with an 800-page hardcover. More »
Mysteries are the comfort food of literature, so it’s no surprise that this Leaside shop has a cozy feel, accentuated by the book shop dog sleeping by the door. Pulp thrillers and detective stories aren’t just about Holmes, Marlowe and Miss Marple anymore, though the Stieg Larsson paperbacks still feel like wary interlopers in this tweedy location. More »