Author | Illustration Sarah Brown

THE MARVELOUS MARTHA SHARPE AND HER FLYING BOOKS

If you look closely in the window of The Weekend Variety, you’ll spot a drawing of Amelia Earhart’s head. It’s the logo of Flying Books, a dynamic Queen West bookstore that’s located inside Katharine Mulherin’s gift shop. It’s the little things, like the mix of old-world charms and contemporary treasures that make customers feel at home in Flying Books. People are eager to talk about literature, and it’s intoxicating.

Nestled in a dreamland of new curiosities, I find owner Martha Sharpe behind the front counter, ordering another fifteen copies of Fifteen Dogs – a book that’s literally flying off the shelves.

I spoke with Sharpe to find out more about her new bookstore at 1080 Queen Street West.

Who is the marvelous Martha Sharpe?

Sharpe is the owner of Flying Books. The former editorial director of Simon & Schuster, she moved back to Toronto where she had an incredible idea to open a bookstore with a suitcase full of carefully selected books. With handwritten notes and a bookshelf she built herself, Sharpe did just that and opened Flying Books in late August. Thus, she became a marvel, and one of the brave owners to open a new bookstore in the city.

What’s the story behind Flying Books?

Flying Books is a story about women. Conceived by Martha Sharpe, inspired by Amelia Earhart, with a logo designed by the amazing Leanne Shapton (Women in Clothes) and a space shared with Katharine Mulherin; a bookstore inspired, shared and made by women.

Why Amelia Earhart?

Sharpe lights up like a match when she tells me about the first time Earhart saw a flying aircraft at Canadian National Exhibition in 1917. “That’s when Earhart became enamored with it,” Sharpe says. A moment described in the years to come as the turning point for women’s autonomy. Almost 100 years later, Flying Books opened its doors on the first day of the CNE.

What are flights of books?

When she’s not editing, reading or ordering books, Sharpe meticulously plans her next flight of books. Every month, Sharpe chooses a new theme to feature the best literature in a selected category. Dedicated to friend Katharine Mulherin, Sharpe’s last art-focused flight featured Ben Lerner’s 10:04, Steve Martin’s Object of Beauty and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (to name a few). Flights of the past include memoirs (Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, Juliet Jaques) and handpicked horror selection by Lynn Crosbie. There’s something for everyone in each flight and customers trust Sharpe’s thoughtful recommendations.

Looking ahead to January’s flight, customers will learn how to talk to people with a special flight from Misha Glouberman, the people expert and co-author behind The Chairs Are Where The People Go.

How much do you trust Misha Glouberman?

“He chose works of literature that inform his drop-in class about how to talk to people,” Sharpe says. One of his selections is The Consultant’s Calling – a book about a consultant who shares his intuitive wisdom on how to manage time and work with others. “I’m going to get behind Misha on this. It’s so smart.” Sharpe says.

What are some must-read books right now?

Customers eavesdrop as Sharpe tells me her must-read list. “Everybody has to read The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, and everything written by Elena Ferrante in the Neapolitan series.”

Minutes later, a customer slides a copy of Ferrante on the desk like a fangirl waiting for an autograph. “Is this the page-turner you just mentioned?” the woman asks. She smiles again, “I love the handwritten notes; they’re very helpful.” she says.

Biggest challenge opening a bookstore in Toronto?

Two weeks after opening, Sharpe knew she needed to order more books to keep up with the demand. “Ordering enough copies is a challenge. Sometimes I worry, a little too much, that the books won’t sell. It’s a lie we’ve absorbed that nobody wants to buy books. But people do.” Flying Books is proof of that.

What is The School of Flying Books?

The School of Flying Books is a place for people who love to read and write. Last month, poet Damian Rogers taught a four-week intensive poetry workshop at Artscape Youngplace to help writers explore the craft of poetry. Educators you might never find in a university classroom will teach classes on criticism, writing for the Internet and memoirs. Stay tuned for more classes to come.

What’s next for Flying Books?

Like a flying doctor swooping in to help, Flying Books will drop flights of books in retailers across the city. Look out for Sharpe’s books in gift shops, cafes, markets, and boutique hotels (to be determined where, but it’s happening). While nothing is for certain quite yet, there are endless possibilities with shelf-size books and flights.

Learn more about Martha and Flying Books on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

1 Comment

  1. LydiaStoneLydia
    January 9, 2016

    shedoesthecity When I listed with torontolibrary for the second book, 300 waiting for 62 copies

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