Week 9: Eliot’s Bookshop

Eliot’s Bookshop, 584 Yonge Street ,Toronto, Canada,  M4Y 1Z3

There’s a little pub in London that I think you’d really like.  It’s quiet inside and made of warm burgundy and brown colours.  It’s asymmetrical, it has an old-fashioned chimney and the paint on the outside is beginning to look a little worn.  It stays low on the horizon, crouching a little awkwardly, but still with its head up, surrounded by the Broadway-style theatres, glass business complexes and chain coffee shops of Victoria station.   It’s a wonderful pub because it seems alive, like an old grandfather who sat down in his armchair long ago and despite the racket of his gauche children and annoying grandchildren, he staunchly, and yet with a subtle recognition of the humour of it all, refuses to move.   It’s good to know that on the other side of the ocean, there are still stubborn little establishments like my London pub.

Eliot’s looks like it used to really belong on downtown Yonge Street.   I don’t know anything about the history of the shop or of the Yonge and Wellesley area (though the talkative owner would surely have told me if I had thought to ask), but it just looks like it was the original inhabitant and the sex shop to its right and what I think was once a shoe store on the left just sort of nestled in there on either side.

Stepping off of busy Yonge Street, the inside of the shop struck me immediately for its neat rows of wooden bookshelves.  There is something reassuring and comforting about things made of wood.  Hardwood floors, crafted wooden bookshelves and creaky wooden staircases are evocative of small country houses and old chests in grandparents’ basements and, in a perverse and backward kind of way, of bonfires and of a guitar singing out into a summer dusk.  Eliot’s feels a bit like being in an old attic, where you feel warm and comfortable and happy to be there, despite never knowing exactly what to expect. Unfortunately, today was a beautiful sunny day of 29 degrees, but I can only fantasise about being trapped in Eliot’s in the middle of a blizzard.

The ground floor doesn’t quite have that cosy attic feel; it’s more like a library.  Paper letters poke out into the walkway between the shelves, but these books are no simple “Fiction A-Z”.  What the ground floor lacks in cosiness, it makes up for in quirkiness, with shelves full of Vintage Magazines, Comic Books, Mystery, True Crime, Occult, New Age, Science Fiction, Psychology and Mythology sections, while the stand-bys like “Poetry” and “Drama” remain conspicuously missing.   In the Mythology section, I found a beautiful hard cover book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from 1936 with gorgeous illustrations and those thick, yellow pages you only get in older books. The book was $12 and it took a veritable act of will for me to pry myself away from it.  Anyone else interested in the book should be warned that I did put it back but I hid it elsewhere on the shelf for myself in case I decided to come back and give in to temptation.  You’re welcome to try and find it, but it will be a challenge.  It’s probably the only book in the shop that’s not properly alphabetised.

As I passed the front of the shop to walk up the stairs, I stopped to talk to the owner.  He  was listening to “Paint it Black” and turned to me with a sincere grin on his face and said “This is the best song of all time.  Am I right?  This is just the best song ever written!”  I expressed agreement.  I figured, why not?  He told me he was playing a video of a live performance of the song on Youtube and then asked if I needed help finding anything.  The shop has three floors and a truly overwhelming selection of books, so the offer was hardly misguided or unnecessary.

I walked up the wooden stairs and peered up at the floor above like a child on Christmas morning.  I was amazed by the number of beautiful old hard cover volumes I found on the shelves.  The Literature and Poetry sections were incredibly well-stocked and when I do get trapped there in the middle of a blizzard, I certainly shan’t be bored.  I was lucky enough to be the only customer on that floor at the time, so I didn’t hesitate to walk around with a grin on my face and my mouth wide open in awe.  The shop’s collection of art books, in particular, was impressive, with everything from Man Ray to Rembrandt to Fabergé.

The second floor mainly houses books about business and law and other practical and considerably less exciting things.  It’s worth going up though to have a peek at the stain glass window looking out onto the street and for the bird’s eye view of the first floor.

On my way out of the shop, I passed by the front desk again, where the owner was talking on the phone to someone, quickly and excitedly, about how “Paint it Black” is the best song ever written and how he’s watching every video on Youtube of it being performed live.  He strikes me as the kind of guy who takes these important things seriously and who is enthusiastically devoted to beautiful little things, like songs and books and wooden bookcases.  Frankly, I think I’d like to be his friend.

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One response to “Week 9: Eliot’s Bookshop

  1. I have to visit this bookstore. Loved, loved, loved your description of the ambience and total immersion in the lay-out of the store. Keep the information coming. I am a dedicated follower. I also want to discover where you hid the 1937 Grimm’s edition.Bet I could find it!

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