I sorely miss slowly and quietly wandering independent bookstores, but in a way I feel more connected than ever to my local book shop.
Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve had several small but memorable conversations on the phone, inquiring about different books, or asking for recommendations for my son—an emerging reader. Leaving my home to go pick up a book has brought me excitement, focus, and has practically become an event in and of itself! Retrieving a book I can escape into and find comfort in has been a lifeline.
Or perhaps I feel more connected than ever because I notice the loss, or what’s missing when convening in this magical neighbourhood space is not possible. This year (or past 14 months) has allowed me to reevaluate the value that independent bookstores bring to a neighbourhood, and the important role they play in nurturing community connection.
April 24th is Canadian Independent Bookstore Day, and we caught up with Laura Ash, Co-owner of Another Story Bookshop, to find out how the beloved Roncesvalles Village store, has managed daily life in the pandemic and what they will be doing this weekend to mark the occasion. Laura also shares which books were the most requested from her store this year, or excellent reading lists for both adults and kids.
What has it been like to be an independent bookstore in the pandemic? Aside from the obvious of forcing to close your doors and move to curbside pickup…would you say your role in the community has shifted? What feels the most different?
I would say our role has somewhat shifted. We can provide recommendations and book lists over the phone or through email but it’s not quite the same as being able to show & tell why these books matter. Using social media for book talks and reviews has helped us a bit with this. We also used our space to provide authors and community members a place to host free meetings and book launches, and while most our events happen offsite, having this available for our community was important to us. Our biggest shift has been with our wholesale as schools are looking to update their collections. After a quiet 2 years with the strike and then the lockdown our small in store staff has switched from bookshop to warehouse quite quickly – of course that comes with its own set of interesting challenges but we, like others, have made the best of it.
In your opinion, has reading changed? What changes have you noticed in habits?
During the first few months I noticed a lot of backlist buying. Books that we hadn’t had in stock for years like 90’s bestsellers, an epic 12 books series or the 1st novel of an author whose 3rd novel was a bestseller this year. Lots of great young adult requests too, which is always lovely to see… oh and the cookbooks – we sold so many it was hard to keep them in stock. Then you saw a big switch to more current non-fiction and memoir as people wanted to be more informed and engaged with the Black and Indigenous communities here and in the US. I would say now things are pretty much back to the normal buying habits we expect to see. Still a lot of cookbooks though!
What books have been your hottest sellers in 2021 so far? For adults, and for kids?
For adults it has been “The Skin We’re In” by Desmond Cole, “How to Pronounce Knife: Stories” by Souvankham Thammavongsa, “Policing Black Lives” by Robyn Maynard, “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer, “Gutter Child” by Jael Richardson, “A History of My Brief Body” by Billy-Ray Belcourt, “On Property” by Rinaldo Walcott, “Seven” by Farzana Doctor, “Brother” by David Chariandy & “Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies” by Leanne Betasamos Simpson
For kids it has been “This Place:150 Years Retold” by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, “This Book is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell, “The Barren Grounds” by David A Robertson, “New Kid” by Jerry Craft, “Marrow Thieves” by Cherie Dimaline, “Once Upon an Hour” by Ann Yu-Kyung Choi, “Our Little Kitchen” by Jillian Tamaki, “When We Are Kind” by Monique Gray Smith, “Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes & “Pet” by Akwaeke Emezi
What store memory/interaction from this past year do you think will stick with you forever?
Honestly, there isn’t just one but I will say that they all revolve around how amazing my colleagues are. I work alongside some of the sweetest, generous and truly good people who make all of this so much easier. I would not have laughed and smiled as much as I did this past year without them. The shop is also run very collectively so having their input and feedback has really made the day-to-day decisions during these tough times much less overwhelming. I feel like we have done a really great job under the circumstances and I can’t thank them enough.
Was there an independent bookstore that left an impression on you as a child or young adult?
Oh yes. My local indie growing up was The Book Keeper in Sarnia, ON. It was in a smaller location than where it is now but I still have so many amazing memories from there. Susan Chamberlain – the owner, and all the staff were so very important to me. From a young age this bookshop helped me understand how vital local businesses were to their communities and I knew that one day I wanted to contribute in the same way. I have been a bookseller now for about 20 years and can only hope that Another Story has the same impact.
What have you always enjoyed most about what you do?
OK, so I really like being behind the scenes. Solving problems, fixing things, being analytical – numbers are kinda my jam. During this last year there have been plenty of problems that needed to be solved but more often I had to let a lot of that go and just see how things played out day to day. It’s been a completely different experience, not necessarily an enjoyable one, but one I’ve learned a lot from.
How will you be marking/celebrating Independent Bookstore Day?
Very differently this year. With our store being closed to the public we won’t have the opportunity to thank all our customers for supporting us this past year with fun events and author readings but we will have some online giveaways and contests during the day on our social media accounts.
We’ve also got some exclusive merch coming from Biblioasis – their Bookshops Series 1 collector cards – featuring ten must-visit indies in North America and the first chapbook in their new series by booksellers called “The Least We Can Do”
Lastly, we will be supporting the Canadian Independent Booksellers Association and their Indie Bookstore Day contest that encourages readers to shop local. With every book purchased from an indie in Canada on April 24 or 25, customers will receive 1 entry, with the opportunity to win prizes donated by publishers, many of which are virtual author experiences. The details are here.
Hope everyone enjoys Indie Bookstore Day and thanks for shopping local!
Another Story Bookshop is located at 315 Roncesvalles Avenue. Check their website for new releases, upcoming virtual events, or to find your next favourite book.