These are strange times for the independent bookseller. On the one hand, you can discover a book you’re interested in, download it, and begin reading it on an e-book reader, all without ever leaving the comfort of your toilet seat. Or, if you still enjoy the physicality of print, you can order through Amazon.ca, wait around in your pajamas for a few days and have your books of choice delivered to your door.
On the other hand are large-format stores like Chapters and Indigo and all those other giftshops/bookstores owned by Heather Reisman. It’s hard to compete with their vast, amorphous selection, their heavily market-researched display tables, their touch-screen computer systems that make sure you never have to rely on actual staff—until it comes time to pay anyway.
So it’s kind of weird, almost like entering an alternate universe, to step into Type Books on Queen Street, just across from Trinity Bellwoods Park—a cozy, independent shop that just celebrated its fifth birthday this past weekend. There may not be a touch-screen computer system or a fancy algorithm that tracks your past purchases and then recommends a new read—but there is something better. Staff who love books at least as much as you do and probably more. They are friendly, knowledgeable, warm, wholly unpretentious, and good at what they do.
Walking into Type Books as they celebrated their birthday last Saturday, we found the store filled with people all quietly watching as Michael Redhill read from a perch near the back. Redhill was just one of 18 authors reading over the course of the day, many of them Torontonians like Michael Helm, Gil Adamson, and Andrew Kaufman. Kyo Maclear, author of the children’s book Spork, even brought her husband along for a charming rendition of “The Tines They are A-Changin’.” (The subject of the song was a spork.)
Joanne Saul and Samara Walbohm opened the store together five years ago. “We wanted to open a store that both of us would shop in,” Saul said. Walbohm nodded, saying, “We wanted to create a sense of nostalgia for the old type of bookstore so that you really felt you were walking into a library, that you felt comfortable.” And it would be difficult to find another bookstore that has so engrained and embedded itself in the community, a commitment that is not taken lightly by Saul or Walbohm. “One of our regulars came up to us and said: you couldn’t have done this without us,” Saul said, laughing. “And you know what? He’s right.”
One of the first things that you will notice about Type is that the shop is small—but don’t let that fool you. Type is a perfect example of quality over quantity, with each shelf containing classics, bestsellers, and obscure titles you may never have heard of. Staff at the store, many of them writers themselves, have a hand in the buying process, and they take their task of curating the shelves seriously. “People feel comfortable because they see things they know, but they also might be surprised to see something that they never would normally find elsewhere,” Walbohm said. “And so we provide an experience that you can’t possibly find online or in a larger format store. A more intimate space.”
Aside from selling books, Type manages a gallery in the basement that hosts shows by local artists, and regularly holds book launches and events. The shop also hosts reading and writing enjoyment programs—Word Play and Write On, respectively—which are run by teacher candidates from York University. And if that wasn’t enough, there is also a children’s reading series every weekend with a retired kindergarten teacher.
Damian Rogers, a local poet, was one of the authors reading at the birthday party, and we spoke with her after she read from her book of poetry, Paper Radio. Type is about the living book culture in the city, she says. “This is where all the writers I know shop for books. There’s a feeling of mutual support. Sometimes you go into a shop and you feel like they could be selling soap or candles or books or records,” she said, but not so with Type.
“Type is committed to the idea that the book is an object and not just an information delivery system,” Rogers said. “When I come to Type I find books that I want to keep forever.”
Happy birthday, Type. We wish you many more.