It’s not exactly often that you walk into a store and hear “Twisted” by Joni Mitchell playing, but let me tell you, when you do, you can safely bet that you’re in a good place.
Doug Miller Books is in the heart of Toronto’s Koreatown between two Korean restaurants and if you don’t know it’s there you might walk right past it. But wouldn’t it just be a crying shame if you did. Jazz Radio was playing in the background when I walked in which immediately made me feel like this was a bookshop that’s got it right. I’ve never understood how big chains think that I’m going to want to buy a book when they’re blasting Katy Perry and the Glee soundtrack at me; who can really read with that in the background? I’ve found that the perfect conditions for reading are in fact very particular. They differ from person to person, but for me, I have to have my feet up, a cup of tea and, though music isn’t necessary and in fact sometimes silence is better, I’m usually happy to have a mellow acoustic folk song, Ludovico Einaudi, classical music (preferably Bach, not in general, just for reading) or a bit of jazz playing softly in the background. All of this is to say that hearing the jazzy Joni when I walked in made me feel like I was welcome to pull out a book, plop down on one of the many cardboard boxes (full of books) that threaten to block all walkways and thumb through one of the shop’s old copies of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew books.
I was pleased to find that many of the used books in the shop are for children and teens and, of course, those who act and think like a child or a teen. Being a member of the latter category, I was very excited to find a copy of Bootleg by Alex Shearer, which is about a dystopian world in which the Good-For-You Party bans chocolate. I read it when I was twelve and absent-mindedly left my copy outside when I went in for dinner, only to remember it a couple of hours later. In the middle of a thunderstorm. Being responsible for the death of a book at such a young age scarred me quite a bit so it felt good to redeem myself by paying a measly $5 for a used copy.
As my adventures in book-hunting – my chronic addiction – take me in and out of these bookshops in different cities and different countries, I think I’ve learned that what appeals most to me is a place that seems just a little bit out of control. That’s not to say that I don’t respect booksellers who keep their shops highly ordered and structured or designs that are neat and clean. However, there’s something about the piles of books on top of rows of books on bookshelves and the overflowing cardboard boxes housing untold treasures in Doug Miller’s that I find thoroughly satisfying. It’s all well and good that the shop has a huge selection (most of which, it seems, is hidden in boxes and not on the shelves) and that they’re organised in a logical and easy-to-follow way. But what good is a rule without an exception; a shelf without a book out of place? With this in mind, I’d like to point out that I did take pictures, but can’t post them immediately since I’ve somehow lost the connector for my camera.
In other words, my life, like the shelves in my favourite bookshops, is a bit of a shambles.
P.S. I found it.