Type Books

IMG_2083Type, 883 Queen Street West, Toronto, Canada, M6J 1G3

Well, North America, I had almost given up on you.

Over the years, I have watched in horror as every time I visit Toronto, one more of the few struggling independent bookshops has closed its doors for good and no one has kicked up any fuss about it.  Long have I shaken my head in dismay, long have I wagged my finger in disapproval, long have I made (possibly unfair) pronouncements about the defects of an entire continent that is more interested in the latest gadget than preserving books, art and music, the little places (bookshops, libraries, museums and galleries) where peaceful spaces open up into a world of adventure.

I was just about to give up, become world-weary before my time and conclude that future generations of weird kids with over-active imaginations and more creativity than social skills will have to go without the comfort and the joys of real books and rooms full of them.

IMG_2076Then I met Type.  Hallelujah, I thought, there might just be hope for them yet.  For even in a difficult economic climate, and in a social climate that is wholly disheartening to those who want to live by books, Type has succeeded.  I, for one, am relieved to know that even if other great bookshops in this city (a moment of silence, please, for the late and great Nicholas Hoare Books) are dwindling in numbers and having to close, Type marches on in its quest to bring a bit of colour and a bit of joy back into the lives of Toronto’s bookworms.

IMG_2082That sense of joy hits you before you even enter the shop.  The display in the front window of the bookshop changes regularly, but is always inviting.  In late August when I visited, a back to school display featured pieces of white paper, covered in handwriting whimsically floating through the air, suspended above a selection of relevant books.  The effort put into creating such an inspiring and imaginative display, sure to draw in even the most school-resistant child, suggests that this is a place where the beauty and magic of a book, the miraculous potential of a blank page, does not go unnoticed or uncelebrated.

Inside, the large shop has a spacious layout, which might seem a bit too impersonal  with its cold bare floors, were it not for the stubbornly IMG_2080unfashionable, but comforting and homely decorations on the walls.  Several different colour schemes and loud patterns dominate different parts of the shop and multi-coloured bunting pops up here and there so that the whole place feels a bit like your wacky aunt decorated it.  But at Type, it works. The walls are as colourful as the books themselves, which are the main focus, as they should be.  Type illustrates their understanding of the charm of books themselves – without gimmicks or cross-promotional merchandise – in their creative and stunning video advert called The Joy of Books.  If you have been living under a rock for the past year and still haven’t seen it, watch this video (once, twice or on repeat) to be reminded of the potential for magic that is latent any time a reader is presented with a shelf full of books.  I always feel awe when I enter a bookshop or a library or the house of a particularly accomplished collector and see, standing in front of me, a small sample of mankind’s genius, the creative and intellectual output of our civilisation, expressed in more words than I could evenIMG_2075 hope to read in a lifetime, right there, available, waiting to be opened and for the dance of the words on the page begin.  A Kindle or an Ipad fails to give that impression of greatness, durability and possibility. Even if it contains a million ‘books’ (or files as I call them, since that’s all they are) the Kindle cannot impress the reader in the same way a good bookshop does.  It will never make us realise  – through the sheer presence, the endearing physicality of paper pages you can touch –  the amount of words we have not read, and the possibility that they might all change our lives the way a shelf of unopened books can.

At Type, I could sense the legendary words and timeless expressions of thoughts and emotions around me.   Surrounded by so many beautiful and important books, I could almost hear them whispering, promising to share their secrets if I was willing to pick one up and sit with it for a while.  The collection that the booksellers at Type have accumulated is so brilliantly-curated that browsing through it, you can tell that any book in the selection might change your life.  A well-stocked selection of classics is of course mandatory, but the wide range of fiction titles available is refreshingly contemporary.  The balance between old and new is just right, as if to remind us that we are nothing if we do not know our past, but that that past should no longer define us.  In order to help us break free from it, Type offers novels by the greatest writers of our generation and less famous authors who nonetheless deserve our attention.  The poetry section also IMG_2079mixes old and new in exciting ways and encourages the browser to try something they never would have found on their own.  The selection of graphic novels is large, which is appropriate for a form finally coming into its own and being taken seriously.  Personally, I think it might prove to be an invaluable new genre for the internet generation to express its understanding of its own time.  Despite how new and fresh the genre is, at Type, a small typewriter is nestled in a the base of this section, perhaps so that we don’t get too carried away and forget that all books, no matter how innovative the format, are simply the result of the miraculous combination of black letters on a white page.

There are also superb history, politics, philosophy and religion sections where the range of inspired and significant titles simultaneously excited and IMG_2074intimidated me.  And in the back room, beyond the cook book section and books on all kinds of crafts and activities, there is the children’s section.  It’s a small room and contains a few too many toys and other non-book items for my tastes, but it is cosy and bright, with little child-sized chairs dotted around and a great selection of books for all ages. As a child who spent many hours curled up in the children’s sections of libraries and bookshops, I can tell you that a small and quiet nook at the back of a bookshop is all you need to  bring to life the magic that grown-ups need videos and fancy editing to be reminded of.

So shame on us, the adults.   The ones who have accepted this opinion (whose opinion, again?!) that magic is kids’ stuff, that the closest we can get to it is a touch-screen smartphone or a device that is nothing but a pale shadow of a real book.  What Type reminds its readers is that all that stuff is just a distraction for a distracted age impressed with its own petty party tricks.  The real magic starts when you open a book, and let it open something in you, too.

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13 responses to “Type Books

  1. Thank you for this review. I will definitely check it out the next time I am in Toronto. But sadly I think you are right (as you so eloquently put it) that there are fewer of those “the little places (bookshops, libraries, museums and galleries) where peaceful spaces open up into a world of adventure.”

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  2. Totally agree with your wise insights and reflections on Type bookshop. I wish that you had visited Mable’s Fables. Next time you are in Toronto, I hope you have a chance to see this charming corner street store. It is a place where the magic begins.

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    • Hi Wendy, very glad you enjoyed it. You should visit soon if you have never been! I didn’t get to Mable’s Fables on my most recent trip as I ended up be extremely pressed for time, but I spent many many hours there as a kid, so I am very familiar with that magic!

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  3. This is wonderful and I’m finding The Matilda Project fascinating! Your passion for books and small bookshops is a breath of fresh air in this age of tablets and eBooks. It’s also inspired me to plan a road trip back to my old college town and get lost amongst the shelves of its three amazing independent bookshops. As a student, I used to while away the hours wandering through them when I needed a break from campus. They all manage to exist harmoniously within three blocks of each other.

    You’ve also inspired me to explore the bookshops in my own city. I’m shocked and rather ashamed to admit that I haven’t done it before.

    I’m visiting the UK next year and I’m eagerly anticipating wandering through many of the shops you’ve discovered. Thanks!

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  4. This book store looks amazing. Sadly, the used bookstore near my house is going out of business. They’ve been struggling for years, but it turns out they are hoping to reopen the store one town over where the rent is cheaper. (No Kindles for me please!!)

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  5. A moving and literate paean to the printed word, Emily, especially when you say “I always feel awe when I … see, standing in front of me, a small sample of mankind’s genius, the creative and intellectual output of our civilisation, expressed in more words than I could even hope to read in a lifetime, right there, available, waiting to be opened and for the dance of the words on the page begin.”

    The dance of the words on the page — such an incisive and yet sensitive comment. Thanks!

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  6. Lovely writing! Reading this made my day.

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  7. Hooray for Type. That gives me hope. And yes, Nicholas Hoare was one of the most amazing bookstores ever.

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  8. > long have I made (possibly unfair) pronouncements about the
    > defects of an entire continent that is more interested in the latest
    > gadget than preserving books, art and music, the little places
    > (bookshops, libraries, museums and galleries) where peaceful
    > spaces open up into a world of adventure.

    No, you haven’t been unfair. 😉 It’s pretty desperate out there. Glad you found such a great place, though.

    And if you’re ever in San Luis Obispo, California, you must visit this place: http://entertainingwelseyshaw.com/2011/12/26/the-most-amazing-coffee-shop-ive-ever-seen/

    You’ll never want to leave!

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  9. What a beautiful post! Toronto is a special place for me since I discovered much of what I love now in books and bookstores thanks to this amazing city. It’s great you are celebrating shops like Type – we bookworms need to work together to really spread the word! Bookshops are the best!

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  10. Right on. As a reclusive bookworm, I tend to order most of my books online. Trying hard to avoid Amazon but still…
    Every time I check in on your site, I’m reminded of the crucial necessity to get my act together and walk over to the nearest bookstore! So, thank you for the wake-up call. And congratulations on your bookshop-hunting adventure. A commanding project for sure.

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  11. I love your bookshop reviews, and especially love your passion for real books. Thank you for both! I went to a street market in a very small rural town in Victoria and was fascinated to see that the book stall was the one that drew most people in. There were even people making recommendations to their friends. We came away with 5 books for $18. Bargain!

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    • I too have seen an upswing in people interested in browsing real books in real bookstores. I blogged about this recently; in this age of amazing technology something as simple as paging through a book is becoming unavailable to us. Instead we get online samples that are often just a page of worthwhile material, usually just of part of the first chapter. Sometimes we don’t appreciate the simple pleasures until we can’t have them anymore! Bookstores may someday be the thing that separates real *readers*–connoisseurs if I dare use that word–from casual people who just order reading material to get ahead at work, etc.

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