A good independent bookstore is still worth more than any online store or chain bookstore. The selection is far better than in a chain, knowledgeable staff still beat algorithms, and much as I enjoy online browsing, there’s nothing like standing in a room (or rooms!) full of books.
So this week I’m putting the spotlight on several indies I’ve recently had the privilege of visiting.
I’ve just finished a road trip through Western Canada. One of the best parts of the trip was looking out for independent bookstores everywhere I went, and buying a little something at each, in the hope they’ll still be there next time I come through.
Here’s what I found, from west to east…
Vancouver Kidsbooks, Vancouver, BC
Specialty: Children’s and YA
Why it’s awesome: I first noticed this store because of the amazing book-themed art covering the front windows. Wish I’d taken a picture! Inside, it has a full wall of YA with a truly varied selection — plenty of what’s popular at the moment, but also a wide variety of other options. I had a long conversation with the store’s buyer (and owner?), who told me that she tries hard to buy (and recommend) a good balance of stock. When I picked up a book that I’d read but she hadn’t, she even asked me all about it.
What I scored: Half World by Canadian author Hiromi Goto (YA portal fantasy, starring a Japanese Canadian protagonist, with a topping of weird)
White Dwarf Books / Dead Write Books, Vancouver, BC
Specialty: Fantasy/science fiction and mystery/crime
Why it’s awesome: This tiny shop is crammed full of books in two major genres. It sells new books only, but has a good selection of slightly older titles that may be hard to find, as well as a wide variety of brand-new releases. It also has a small YA and children’s section. Bonus: the cute and playful resident beagle.
What I scored: Miles, Mystery and Mayhem (SF – a Vorkosigan Saga omnibus edition) by Lois McMaster Bujold and Mainspring (steampunk) by Jay Lake
Grizzly Book and Serendipity Shop, Revelstoke, BC
Specialty: Canadiana and Rockies-related non-fiction
Why it’s awesome: This eclectic small-town shop is part bookstore, part New Age, and even part antique furniture seller. A tiny spiral staircase leads to a small but welcoming children’s and YA section upstairs. They have a good selection of local-oriented non-fiction such as hiking guides, birding books, mountaineering memoirs, and Rockies history, as well as Canadian fiction, spirituality, self-help, and SF&F.
What I scored: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Audrey’s Books, Edmonton, AB
Specialty: Canadiana and local authors, but they have a wide range of non-fiction and fiction, including a children’s and YA section downstairs
Why it’s awesome: This venerable downtown bookstore is the sole remaining indie mainstay in Edmonton, after the demise of the sorely missed Greenwoods (my favourite store in the world for many years). They do plenty of author events and are a champion of local authors in the community.
What I scored: Seldom Seen Road (poetry) by local writer Jenna Butler
Honorable Mention: Bakka Phoenix, Toronto, ON
Specialty: Science fiction and fantasy
Why it’s awesome: Toronto isn’t exactly in Western Canada, but Bakka Phoenix had to go on this list because they are my local SF&F bookstore and I love them dearly. They have a huge selection of all my favourite kinds of books, including used books, YA, children’s, and graphic novels, and they know a lot about what they sell. Every time I go in, I want to buy half the store on the spot.
What I scored: I think the most recent books I bought here were Among Others by Jo Walton and Embassytown by China Miéville
For more, here’s a list of the Top 10 Favourite Canadian Bookstores as nominated by CBC Radio listeners.
Your turn! What’s your favourite independent bookstore — in Canada or otherwise? Or do you have fond memories of a sadly departed bookstore? I’d love to hear about them!