As Canadian Independent Bookstore Day approaches on April 30, we wanted to hear from the owners of some of our favourite local bookshops. Type Books co-owner Joanne Saul tells us all about the joys of running a bookshop, building strong relationships with the community, and of course, the magic of a good book.
When did you become a reader? A lover of books?
I think I first became a reader by way of being read to. Some of my favourite earliest memories are listening to my mom read me nightly installments of Anne of Green Gables. To this day I think about the characters in that book, the relationships forged between them, the examination of love and family and connection. When I began to read on my own, I remember cherishing my boxed set of Little House on the Prairie and passing it on to my own daughter years later. We would read chapters together and then I’d have to unpack the outdated cultural assumptions within them. That’s the beauty of a good book. It exposes us to different worlds and allows access to big ideas, broad conversations and new ways of thinking.
Do you remember the first bookstore you fell in love with? Or a bookstore memory from your childhood? Please describe what it was that enchanted you.
I distinctly remember being a regular at The Children’s Bookstore. It was right in my neighbourhood and the owners lived up the street from me. I was friends with their daughters. We spent a lot of time in that kids’ section. I’ll never forget listening to Dennis Lee read from Alligator Pie. I think there’s a picture of a bunch of us kids sitting in a circle wide-eyed and starstruck from the newspaper sometime in the mid-1970s. I still remember feeling amazed that there was a poem about Casa Loma (a castle just up the street from me!) in a real book! Lee’s daughter went to my elementary school so he would sometimes come and read to us there as well, but it was the space of that magical bookstore that I loved. It was so wonderful to have an entire bookstore devoted to kids’ books. It was such a special place of belonging. It felt like it existed just for us.
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What about your bookshop brings you the most joy?
The best part of Type is being able to create that same sense of belonging and community that I felt as a kid at The Children’s Bookstore. That’s why Samara and I wanted to open Type in the first place. In 2005 we felt that independent bookstores were disappearing from our cultural landscapes. We wanted to create the type of space that we remembered — a welcoming space for the neighbourhood and beyond. To that end, we had a gallery in our basement that hosted shows by local artists. We’ve held countless readings and book launches in our stores. We’ve hosted a reading and writing group called Word Play in our basement from the very beginning. Our neighbour Mrs. Hanna ran a storytime for years in our basement. Some of those babies now come in as teenagers with their friends to shop and say hello. It’s amazing to witness the relationships that have formed between our longstanding staff and our loyal customers. There’s a true sense of trust and connection. It’s like a family. We look out for each other and take care of each other. Forging deep roots in the three communities that we’re located in is the most rewarding and joyful part of it all.
What role does a bookshop play in a community, aside from a place to find books?
It’s a place to come and feel like you belong. It’s a cultural hub. It’s a place to share one’s love of books and reading. Friendships grow here. Our amazing staff are all so curious and knowledgeable about books and Type is a place for them to share that. I learn from them all of the time. I learn from our customers as well. There’s an exchange of ideas that happens in an independent bookstore. We see the kids from the neighbourhood grow up. We connect to artists and authors who live and work in the neighbourhood. We’re friends with our neighbours. We help each other out. We depend on one another.
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When you first opened your shop, do you remember a particular book launch or new book that you were very excited for? Something on the shelf that made you think I am so happy.
It was all so exciting. And scary. And nerve-wracking. And wonderful. Sam and I met working on our PhDs in Canadian Literature at UofT. We spent years in the stacks of Robarts Library. The shelving in all three of our stores is an homage to Robarts. And we knew we needed to have certain books that were meaningful to us on those shelves, books that sustained us during our studies: for example, Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook.
I remember our 10th birthday party at the Queen Street store. Rosemary Sullivan was reading from a poetry book by Michael Ondaatje and he was in the crowd listening. Sullivan was on both mine and Samara’s thesis committees and I have a chapter on Ondaatje in my thesis and there we were laughing and talking with them in our very own store and I remember thinking, wow, we’ve come a long way from our carrels on the 13th floor in the stacks of Robarts. It was a very special feeling.
Can you tell us about something on the horizon that you have planned that our readers might be interested in?
On April 30th we’re celebrating Canadian Independent Bookstore Day along with lots of other indie bookstores all across the country. We encourage everyone to go out and support your neighbourhood indie. At Type we’re planning a big Instagram giveaway of Gift Cards and Type Books prints, a signed Andre Alexis chapbook, and lots of other surprises. We’re also gearing up for our “Sweet 16th” Birthday in the fall where we’ll have a whole range of new merch, special guest appearances, and limited edition tote bags. We also have big plans to expand the scope of our website. It’s a great place to go for news of the stores and also to buy books!
Check out Type Books at one of their three Toronto locations: 883 Queen Street West, 2887 Dundas Street West, and 427 Spadina Road.
Canadian Independent Bookstore Day (#CIBD2022) is on Saturday, April 30. Join readers, writers, illustrators, publishers, and other industry supporters to celebrate indie bookstores across Canada. For more info and event listings, head to the CIBD site.