The Best Bookstores in Toronto
The best bookstores in Toronto give bibliophiles hope that, despite the wagging fingers and threats, the printed page isn't dead. Sure, in the face of big box bookstores, e-readers and online purchasing, bookstores have had to specialize or promote themselves through events and classes. But the best bookstores have always gone the extra mile to encourage pleasure in reading, the love of literature and literary culture, and the adoration of the book as an aesthetic object.
When so much makes minds narrow and dull, the bookstore remains a haven of curiosity and imagination. Volumes can open up unknown worlds of possibility, and bring light to dark times. With the knockout success of Canadian literature in recent years, the growth of the self-publishing industry, and signs of book love everywhere, it's not all doom and gloom for the book business.
I personally live by Erasmus's creed: "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." But perhaps the best book-related credo comes from John Waters: "If you go home with somebody, and they don't have books, don't %#*$ them!" You've been warned, now get out there and get yourself some books!
Here are the best bookstores in Toronto.
Indie darlings Type Books know and love books. This is where you go for stellar recommendations on small press, Europa editions, Neversink Library, NYRB, and New Directions. Other places may also carry these publications, but the people at Type actually read them. With the great art, design and magazine sections, plus cookbooks and kids books, events and story-time, Type proves book culture is alive and well in Toronto. The West Queen West location is the most popular, but there's also a shop in Forest Hill Village.
A former manager of (the sadly closed) Nicholas Hoare, Ben McNally opened his eponymous shop in 2007 in the Financial District. The shop is sophisticated and focused. Beautiful hardcover first editions face out on the wooden shelves with a wall on signed copies, each section a space of beauty. McNally is a leader of literary events in Toronto. He hosted the Authors Brunch series at the King Edward hotel, is involved with IFOA and Project Bookmark Canada, and hosts numerous events in the shop after hours.
The beautiful 401 Richmond building is the perfect location for Swipe Books, the bookstore in Toronto to find exquisite design, advertising, architecture and urbanism books. They are the official bookstore of the Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario and the Advertising and Design Club of Canada, and they stock a well-curated selection of toys, games and objects, with the benefits of all the theoretical and technical books around to explain such joyful feats of design.
What better place to start igniting the mind of a child than Mabel’s Fables? This fairy tale children’s bookshop, with cats purring on counters, toys and bright colours, friendly and knowledgeable staff, a cozy reading room, and of course the multitude of new and old classic books (teary-eyed at just the thought of Munsch’s “I’ll love you forever”). It's a wonderful place to encourage a life-long love of reading, one of the most important gifts you can give a child.
You like cooking? Consider yourself a foodie? You know names like Canal House, Ottolenghi, M.F.K Fisher, Madhur Jaffery, and Joe Beef? Then chances are you’ve been to Good Egg. They have cookbooks and food and drink literature and magazines, divided by country, style and theme, plus all the officious trimmings like Le Creuset cookware, Marimekko dish towels, Mauviel mixing bowls, as well as little gifts to keep dinner guests entertained while you finesse those new recipes.
An independent fixture with multiple locations and consistent employer of CanLit up-and-comers, Book City’s combination of social hub, community benchmark and bookseller, makes Toronto a book city. People were dismayed by the recent closer of the Annex location after 38 years, but continue to head to the surviving spots at Yonge and St. Clair, on the Danforth and in the Beaches because of the wide collection of titles and educated staff.
Discount books, without having to turn to Amazon - yes please! BMV Books may not have all the newest titles, but so what? Head somewhere else on the list if you need those. At BMV there are tons of older, classic and unusual titles to keep your nose in a book and the balance of your credit card low, without resorting to the online beasts. Decent art and photography sections are worthy of note.
This little gem on Roncesvalles specializes in books with themes of social justice, equity and politics, and the selection is truly impressive. Fiction, food and kids sections play a backing role to this activism forerunner, but Another Story is still the neighbourhood bookshop, bubbling with fun, gifts, literature, and magazines. Here, grassroots begins with the word.
The name says it all. Since 1982 readers come here to find mysteries, crime novels, detective fiction, spy and thriller novels. Fans subscribe to their newsletter ‘The Merchant of Menace’ to find out the latest hits of the genre, or stop in and request a rare title and watch one of the employees/book detectives hunt it down with skills that rival the best sleuths around.
As Canada’s oldest science fiction and fantasy bookstore Bakka Phoenix carries an exhaustive selection of the speculative and wildly creative. Ignore the sweet irony of a niche bookshop like Bakka Phoenix surviving in the days of digital, and enjoy the paper ride as they continue to carve out their existence on tales of dystopian futures, necromancers, androids, post-apocalyptic visions, zombies, mysticism, technology and science.
Conspiracy Culture in Parkdale offers a dizzying array of alternative perspectives on mainstream knowledge. Find yourself speculating on JFK’s death, crystal skulls, 9/11, Area 51, the Freemasons, the Pyramids or the Bermuda Triangle? Head to the Conspiracy Culture shop. The truth is out there!
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