This weekend over at Book Riot, I put together a post on the literary tourism that could be done throughout the city of Toronto, including some of the best bookstores, libraries, festivals, and more. Part of the post I was able to put together because of the bookstore tour I took part of while at the INSPIRE: Toronto International Book Festival.
Since I couldn’t put all of the bookstores into that post, I thought I’d share them over here, along with some of the photos and highlights of each shop.
Before we headed out for the tour on a private bus (which was awesome), the bloggers met with Vanessa and Zena from Tourism Toronto, as well as Dominique, who was one of the Renaissance Hotel representatives and picked out a delicious breakfast selection for us. I’m a sucker for breakfast, so having it family style was even more enjoyable, since it meant sampling everything. The best thing, though, was what I ended up going back for on my last day in Toronto: banana bread french toast.
All of us international bloggers took a photo together before hopping onto the bus:
|Left-to-right: Jane, me, MaryAnn, Gabi, Thea, Ana, and Liz in the back.|
When we got to our first stop, Book City, we met with Michael Kaminer, who was our tour guide, and we also met up with a number of local Toronto book bloggers who joined us on the tour. Michael wrote about how Toronto is a great city for bookstores in the Washington Post last year, and he took us through several of the stops he made and which he wrote about in his piece here.
Book City reminded me a lot of the old Crown Books we used to have in the states. The set up and the way books were shelved felt like a used book store, but it isn’t — this is a new book store, though remaindered titles are left to sell through, rather than shipped back, so there is almost a wider selection of titles than many new bookstores have.
We got to meet with the manager here, who told us much of their customer base is older, and that they strive to provide really good service, meaning that if someone calls from around town, it’s not past them to sometimes deliver the book that the customer wants. I found their children’s and YA section to be fairly underwhelming, which made sense because of who their customer base was and what it was they happened to be looking for.
The second stop on our tour was to BMV Books, which is a used bookstore. They aren’t the kind of used store that takes anything, though. They, too, cater to their customers and in particular, they look for books that are harder to find and, in some cases, which are more collectible items.
This was one of my favorite stops on the trip, as it had a huge selection of titles. There were four floors to explore, including an entire floor dedicated to children’s and YA lit (where I saw a great variety of titles) and an entire floor dedicated to comics. I ended up buying a graphic novel here when we had time to wander around, and I spent some time enjoying the shelves on the first floor that were marked as “old novels.”
The next stop was one that Michael called one of his favorites: Ten Editions Books. When you think of used book stores, this is the kind of place you think about. It was packed from floor to ceiling with books. Then, the back of the store featured additional piles and boxes of books.
The best find at Willow Books for me was the glorious David Bowie Beta tape I found in one of the rows of books. I mean, I guess if you have a spare Beta player around, that might be something you’d need. And something maybe you’d be looking for in a store like this.
Our final stop on the book store tour was to Seekers Books. The store owner told us a little bit about the background of the store, which is located down a flight of stairs, below the main street, and focuses on esoteric, philosophical, occult, and spirituality titles. It’s a used shop, but it also has new books in it, too. The owner got inspired after majoring in psychology in college and meeting a professor who talked about spirituality and other topics that aren’t traditionally part of a major in psychology. From there, he decided a book store dedicated to these ideas was what he wanted to do.
More interesting than that, though, was his philosophy that people will find the right book for them. He often has people who come in and don’t know what they’re looking for, but because this shop offers such a unique mix of titles, they often walk away finding exactly what it is they didn’t know they were looking for. Seekers has a nice vibe to it, and the way its set up lent itself to browsing and perusing.
One of the most interesting parts of Seekers for me was the huge selection of middle grade and YA novels in the back room. This was something I hadn’t seen at many of the other stores, and it felt like an interesting selection to have in a store like this.
While the book store tour was such a neat experience, it was certainly colored by Kaminer’s perspective that indie book stores were the best places. It’s not a bad assertion, nor were any of his tour stops poor choices. Many of them weren’t necessarily of interest to those of us on the tour though, meaning that during browsing time, some of us were done pretty quickly and ready to move on to the next place. I wish we’d seen a wider variety of stores, and this was something that was asked on the tour, but wasn’t particularly well addressed.
One of the most interesting things said on the tour, though, was from Jane, who pointed out that nearly every book store we went to had titles that featured male fantasy books (think pulpy, guy hero saves a vulnerable and attractive female stories) and none of them had a romance section. What did that say about the tour we went on? What did it say about the types of readerships these books have? There’s a lot of food for thought in that comment and I’m not sure how to unpack it.
I’ve talked at length about the highlights of the trip, the highlights of the INSPIRE: Toronto International Book Fest (TIBF), and the bookstore tour through the central part of the city. To wrap up this short series, I thought it would be worth talking about what worked for the event and what could be improved for the future.
I think this was covered pretty well in my first two posts here and here. I think TIBF achieved what it set out to do, and I look forward to seeing what they have on tap for the future in terms of programming and panels.
What Could Be Improved
For the first year, there was a lot that seemed like it worked pretty well. That said, there were a number of things that definitely fell between the cracks.
- The convention center had no wireless internet. They did not even have an option to pay for a day of service. There was spotty public wifi located downstairs in the convention center, if you found the right corner, which made it impossible to live tweet or blog about any of the events. The green room, which was open to media, didn’t have wireless, either. If the goal of bringing in bloggers was for media coverage and if the goal of bringing international bloggers was to do that, this was a big failure. I didn’t turn on my data, and I didn’t have an option for wireless in the building, so I felt no reason to do any writing at all until after the event.
- More YA panels. There was very little YA presence at TIBF, and the names they had were fairly well-known. I would have loved to see more local authors and more local YA authors. Toronto and the GTA, as well as Ontario more broadly, have a ton of YA presence, so tapping that would have been great.
- One of the things that Ardo mentioned in her own write up on TIBF was that there was almost no outreach to local bloggers. That…seems like a pretty big missed opportunity. How great would a local advisory committee have been? I know I would have loved to get to know the local bloggers better, as what conversation we did have was on the tour bus between book stores. It seems like they have a great community, and I wanted to hear more about it.
- It was impressed upon us that part of why they wanted to bring in international bloggers was to not just cover TIBF, but to also talk about the city itself. That’s why we got passes to check out some of the attraction for free, as well as why we got to do this book store tour. However, no time existed to do this. I took an extra two days for myself on this trip, but because of the flight change, I didn’t get time to explore Toronto, either. If we were to visit any of these places or to talk about the city, we should have been given more time to do so. This isn’t a criticism of being given the opportunity to attend — that was amazing — but rather, one of the goals wasn’t achievable because of the time table. It’s hard to tear yourself out of a book festival to go to a museum when you want to attend sessions. It was fortunate that Ana, Thea, and I could get to the CN tower on Friday evening, thanks to their being open late and being right next to the hotel we were staying in.
- Better advertising. This was an event I could have envisioned a lot more people enjoying, but there was little word about it. Even when they reached out to us bloggers, it was early to mid October, which isn’t enough time to request time off work or save money for many people. Hopefully, if this happens next year (and I hope it does), there’s more lead time to advertise it. And, hopefully, they tap the local scene better.
- One of the most interesting things I noticed was that there were very few people in my age demographic at the event. It could have been different when I didn’t attend on Saturday, but on Friday, it was primarily kids (it was a day for kids and that was a day they had off school) and on Sunday, it felt like an older audience. There were few 20- and 30- somethings in attendance. It was mentioned part of why bloggers were brought in may have been to fill this gap, but I think the lack of advertising and lack of tapping the local scene may have impacted this, as well. This is an audience hungry for events like this.
- Maybe the biggest thing tying almost all of these issues together was this: the TIBF didn’t make it clear what they were hoping to do. This is insight we got before the fest opened on Thursday, that they wanted this to be a consumer facing event, meant for general readers and a general interest audience. It wasn’t for professional reasons and it wasn’t a trade show, and because there’s not something like this in this part of the world, there wasn’t an easy way to advertise and tap the appropriate markets. Trade shows are a very different world than consumer shows. If there had been wifi and live tweeting and a more tapped local scene, then the show could have hit more radars after the first day of those in the greater Toronto area, bringing in more people — many in that 20- to 30- something demographic — and generating more interest.
As I mentioned in my other posts, I’d absolutely consider going again. I really like Toronto, the prices for a trip during this time of year — as unpleasant a travel time as it is — were reasonable, and the event itself was fun. Even the hiccups and criticisms are minor and in no way really impacted the fun I had. In fact, this was the first time in a while I walked away from an event feeling energized and inspired to write and engage with books in new and thoughtful ways.