She Said Boom!

IMG_2134She Said Boom!, 372 College Street, Toronto, Canada, M5T 2N9

There’s a lot of pessimism about books at the moment.  When I tell people I’m devoted to real books they look at me like I’m a bit sad and hopeless; when I tell them I want to own a little bookshop one day they say things like ‘Well, if people still read books in ten years, that is…’ or ‘But there won’t be any bookshops in the future…’  and other nonsense.

We’ve all watched in horror as, in America, Borders closed, in Canada,Indigo replaced books with slippers and throw pillows and in the UK, Waterstones dropped the apostrophe and added Kindles to its shelves. We’ve all seen a local independent close.  We’ve all heard the by-now trite advice that if a bookshop wants to survive, it has to up its game, becoming a cafe on the side and selling games, toys and household trinkets that have only the most tenuous relation to actual books.

It’s a sad day for our culture when books aren’t enough, when the hundreds or thousands of titles available in a bookshop can’t hold our attention.  Because, you know, it’s just the entire creative and intellectual output of an entire civilisation, but you’re right, it’s just boring when we can’t also buy chaimochafrappacinolattes and throw pillows in the same place.

The sooth-sayers are loving it, saying that bookshops are doomed, saying that consumers are too lazy to leave home and too apathetic to support local businesses. Frankly, it’s all crap.

I know that because yesterday I went to She Said Boom!, a used bookshop in downtown Toronto, which thoroughly lifted my spirits.  She Said Boom!, which sells books, comics, CDs and records, is not gimmicky or touristy or sexy.  It’s just a good bookshop.  All that means and all that should ever have to mean is that it has knowledgeable staff, a good selection and a bit of room to browse.  A beloved institution on College Street, She Said Boom! was bustling when I visited.  It does this old heart good to see that a good local bookshop can still draw a crowd.

The College Street location is a kind of satellite store for She Said Boom!’s main IMG_2133location in Roncesvalles Village in the West End of Toronto.  Both have excellent and very broad selections of books, but specialise in Literature, Philosophy (of the Eastern and Western varieties), History and Politics.  The College Street shop also has an interesting selection of books on Religion and a great poetry section, where one of the booksellers had a  really sweet conversation with an older customer about his love of Robert Frost as she helped him find Frost’s Collected Poems.

At the College Street location, the books get the most attention.  Bookshelves cover all available wall space in the shop, jutting out into the middle in places to create nice little private nooks where mousy booklovers can follow the alphabet from A to Z as the Fiction section snakes its way over many shelves and in and out of corners.  All the books are used, so they are always significantly cheaper than retail price.  Even though I really shouldn’t be buying too many books while I’m away, I bought Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie for $8 (£4.75) and I love it so far.  Salman Rushdie is one of those authors whose writing I trust so deeply that I will gladly buy anything he wrote without reading the blurb; his name is enough for me.

She Said Boom! has a section devoted to the Classics, by which they do not mean Jane Eyre and David Copperfield, but actual Classical writing from the Ancient Greeks and Romans.  I love when bookshops have a selection of Classical literature that has more in it than The IliadThe Odyssey and The Aeneid.  Here, you can find Greek tragedy, epic poems, Roman comedy and all the greatest writers of antiquity, including Sophocles, Euripides, Catallus, Cicero and Ovid.  Like any good bookshop, She Said Boom! has a selection that does more than just satisfy your cravings and demands, but inspires you to explore different books and give them a chance.

IMG_2131In the middle of the shop, there are tables and boxes full of records, CDs and even the odd cassette tape.  Now, I may know my way around a bookshelf, but (as that statement perhaps proves) I’m not very cool. The people rummaging through these boxes of old records like they were on a treasure hunt definitely are, so I was reluctant to budge in and push them out of the way; they looked like they knew what they were doing.

I was a bit intimidated at first by these objectively cooler browsers (not to mention the tattoo-ed, incense-burning, Velvet Underground-playing, grumpy-looking staff).  But then I saw the looks of joy and contentment on the faces of all different kinds of browsers, whether they were mouthing Robert Frost poems to themselves, gingerly turning the pages of vintage comics or quickly flipping through piles of records like they were magazine pages.  And I realised that what’s so great about She Said Boom! is that they have something for everyone, and a way of bringing out the geek in each one of us.

Bookshops like this – good bookshops – are places where it’s okay to get excited about silly little things like paper books and vinyl records that other people will IMG_2132try to tell you are behind the times.  Good bookshops are places where we come together to acknowledge our common weirdness, our geekiness, our passions for things that other people tell us aren’t worth it. I’m partial to books, but I think that what I’m looking for between the pages is the same thing that other people find through their favourite lyric or a single burst of colour on a canvas.  We’re all just looking to know that someone else in the world shares (or once shared) our passions, our thoughts, our feelings.

That’s why we still need bookshops like She Said Boom!, where the passionate weirdos and misfits who’ll one day rule the world can discover new things to get inappropriately excited about and fan the flames of lifelong passions.

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13 responses to “She Said Boom!

  1. Jim Morrison sang it well. I connect with When You’re Strange ’cause my job as bookseller is becoming that. I will never give up the fight to place a real book in a child’s hands.

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  2. Just reading about this gorgeous bookshop lifted my spirits and I would love to visit it. I like the idea of bookshops bringing the geek out in each of us and as geeks are a lot cooler than they were a few years ago, perhaps there’s more hope for printed books. One thing I love about secondhand bookshops is when I find an edition of a favourite book I’ve never seen before – you can’t have too many copies of your favourites!

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  3. lostandfoundbooksandfoundbooks

    Love it: “The passionate weirdos and misfits who’ll one day rule the world”. We can only hope!

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  4. Love your thoughts. Thanks for standing up for books and those who adore them! I’ve been thinking lately that I wish there was a t-shirt that said something like, “My best friends are long-dead authors.” I would wear it!

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  5. This is a wonderful post! I, too, despair at the state of bookshops, or bookshops plus, and had no idea Waterstones removed their apostrophe. What’s that, just a pile of grammatically incorrect wet stones now?

    Your descriptions of the unique aspects of each bookstore you visit are always valuable and fascinating, and I’m intrigued by the classics section you mention in this one. Worth a visit the next time I’m in Toronto!

    This is my favourite line, though: “We’re all just looking to know that someone else in the world shares (or once shared) our passions, our thoughts, our feelings.”

    Thanks for a great read!

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  6. Your own writings could be part of this discussion of the disappearing bookshops too. Are you keeping a hand-written diary, trip journals, hand written letters, a life-long birthday book with birth dates, engagements, weddings and later in life deaths, Have you an autograph book with contributions from all your friends. It’s a wonderful experience researching family history and being able to handle, smell, feel these things from past generations just lije you enjoy handling books. Perhaps you can think of some books that wouldn’t have been written if the author had to rely on a series of tweets , texts and facebook entries ! I love my books and I also love all handwritten material. Perhaps not quite relevant to what you have posted but these things are also in danger of dying away. Great post as usual. You write beautifully.

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  7. Love it! And I’m glad you’re still thinking positively about the future of bookshops, I have to admit I’m a little worried but hopefully there’s enough of us real book lovers out there to keep the literature world going…

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  8. Loved your article! I’m a steadfast supporter of literature in all forms, but I still cling to the curmudgeonly notion of never buying a Kindle. The environmentalist inside me turns a blind eye, but holding a book and flipping pages with your nose stuck in it is a feeling that can’t be replicated by electricity. The same goes for putting on a vinyl instead of turning on your iPod. I wrote similar sentiments in an article about Toronto’s essential vinyl stores and included She Said Boom! on the list!
    I think to help the future of books, hard copies should come with a pdf or epub download code when you purchase them. That way the us book lovers and the tradition of print can survive and the business travelers and people wanting for space can be satisfied as well!

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  9. You always intoxicate us readers with your take on books, your passion and happiness at all things book is a real refreshing content.

    Books will never die, they are the ultimate medium and even the Kindle and such like will change to a more film friendly base and push out book readers I think then the resurgence will be on. Long live the book!

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  10. I love that I actually know you Emily ❤
    Fan moment aside: great post as usual, I'm exhausted by the usual 'there won't be any bookshops in the future' conversation. I gave a Coffee & Culture the other day on the importance of handwriting which apparently – probably noised abroad by the same sooth-sayers – is dying out.

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  11. Reading this post reminded me of the day I walked in to a comic book store with a friend and had a browse around while he excitedly picked up his comic. I did poke fun at him for being a geek all in good natured but seeing his little facw liggt up at the expanse of choice he had it made me want to buy one.
    The guy behind the counter was a typical comic book store employee as you would expect and the customers browsing were ones to also be expected but as I watched them look through their treasure trove, I felt like I was trespassing as I was not a fan and I felt like I should honour the shrine of many by buying a comic or a figurine. Its amazing the feeling of respect you get for such things, I wonder if non readers feel the same in bookstores?

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  12. I used to live in Toronto for many years so this is all interesting. I still visit since I have family but 1-2 per year.

    Well here’s a used bookstore…in Waterloo County area. A white capped Mennonite good friend of mine and her hubby run it. They only carry “wholesome” books –no sex, violence, etc. They schlepp their books in their (black) car to Old Order Mennonites too. Guess what they buy: Little House on the Prairie series. 🙂 So you if want an experience (well, it’s just books) and talk to her, drop me a line.

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