Buying Secrets, Selling Truths

Why the Co-owner of Argo Bookshop Won’t Brand Books // Meaghan Acosta

Argo Bookshop
Meaghan Acosta, Argo Bookshop

When I first walked into the Argo Bookshop, I fell in love with it all: the slightly sagging, warped bookshelves, the uniquely pungent smell of ink, paper and dust fermenting for decades, the fading poster of Walt Whitman, the old clanging cash register. I knew immediately that I belonged to the place. I spent too much time staring at the shelves, trying to decide what I would bring home as a prize. I settled on the collected works of Pablo Neruda, which to my chagrin, has long since been lost. As I left, I wondered how a place like that could exist across the street from a car dealership, far off the beaten-path, tiny, and hidden in an alcove next door to a cellphone repair shop. Continue reading

Author Notes: Jeff Latosik on Sound and Silence in Poetry

Poetry by Jeff Latosik
Toronto Poet Jeff Latosik

Jeff Latosik contributed two poems to The Puritan: Issue 28The Town Crier asked Latosik several questions about poetry, music, and his magnum opus, Werewolf Moving Company. He answered them here.

The Town Crier: Does your poetry from this issue have an interesting origin story or compositional history you’d like to share?

Jeff Latosik: I wrote a poem about the Internet because I can actually remember when I first heard somebody say the word “internet,” and it was in my job at a Burger King when I was 14 years old. I remember hearing some guys talk about it. I can’t quite say why this fragment is poem-worthy, but I do remember the words having a weird kind of power, as the Internet was this word for so long before many of us began to understand what it was. It seemed a fitting topic for a poem—often words before understanding.

I wrote a poem about Ikue Mori because I’m a big fan of hers. Interested parties can look to a track of hers from 1995 called “Slush,” an ambient piece composed on a series of broken drum machines that sounds like nothing else before or since. Continue reading

The Long Decline of the Downtown Chapters

How the Indigo Model is Hurting Everyone // Jason Freure

The no-longer-in-operation Chapters at John and Richmond

Over the last year, the flagship downtown Chapters in each one of Canada’s three largest cities has closed its doors. Starting with Toronto’s John and Richmond location in 2014, Indigo went on to close the Chapters on Montreal’s Ste. Catherine, and then announced that Vancouver’s Robson site would close down and, after finding a new location, re-brand as an Indigo. All signs point toward Indigo putting the Chapters brand to rest.

The end of Chapters began in June 2001, when Chapters Inc. and Indigo Books & Music merged to form the single largest book retailer in Canada. The announcement came after Indigo CEO Heather Reisman’s company, Trilogy Retail Enterprises LP, acquired 70.5 percent of Chapters in a hostile corporate takeover. Despite the aims of the executive board, the large majority of Chapters’ shareholders sold to Reisman. As of 2014, Indigo accounts for half of all offline book sales in Canada. Continue reading

The Neighbourhood: “We’re Going to Fight the City”

Interview with Winnipeg Bookstore Owner Bill Fugler // Annalee Giesbrecht

Winnipeg’s Wollesley Neighbourhood

North of the Assiniboine River and south of Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, Wolseley is the kind of neighbourhood Winnipeggers either love or hate. Hate it, and they’re bound to describe it with words like “granola cruncher,” or “patchouli”; love it, and they’ve probably already moved there. Amidst the old elms and three-storey, century-old houses sits a one-storey brick building with a patio and a hand-painted sign reading “The Neighbourhood Bookstore and Café.” Here, you can find a cup of coffee, Japanese snacks, your neighbours chatting over a piece of pie, and, more often than not, several of the books you’ve been thinking of reading but hadn’t gotten around to yet. If you manage to get out of there without a pile of them under your arm, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

Since it opened in 2006, The Neighbourhood’s welcoming atmosphere and vast collection of affordable used books have been close to the heart of the community of artists, intellectuals, activists, and students who populate the Wolseley area. But Wolseley is changing: those beautiful old homes and quiet tree-lined streets have become prime real estate, and rising rents are driving long-time tenants out of the small business strip on Westminster Avenue.

I stopped by the store to chat with owner, writer, and filmmaker Bill Fugler about managing a small business, the joys of printed books, and his ongoing legal snafu with the City of Winnipeg. Continue reading

The Philadelphia Book Trade

The End of Arts-Based Employment Spells the End of Philadelphia’s Art Scene // Jason Price Everett

Philadelphia’s Mostly Books

History tells us that in the mid-18th century there were over 75 bookshops, printers, and stationers’ shops in Philadelphia, making it the undisputed publishing centre of the Thirteen Colonies. This was the reason that a young printer’s apprentice—or “printer’s devil” in the argot of the period, due to stray ink blackening their exposed skin—named Benjamin Franklin travelled there from Boston, and also the reason that the burgeoning movement for independence chose the city as its eventual headquarters, with its emphasis on the publication and dissemination of pamphlets, broadsides, periodicals, and declarations of every stripe. It became the epicentre of an emergent local literary culture, which saw the publication of books ranging from Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac (as well as his Autobiography) to the groundbreaking work of Charles Brockden Brown, one of the earliest authors of an emergent North American fiction distinct from its English precursors.

Today, a little over two and a half centuries later, Philadelphia’s once-vibrant literary culture has declined drastically from its halcyon heyday. Barring the affiliated bookstores of the major universities, there are only a handful of bookstores still operating in the Center City area, and even fewer to the north, west, and south across the city’s vast urban sprawl. Of the handful of bookstores left in the city, only a couple of them are in the business of selling new books, and one of those is a Barnes and Noble on the north side of Rittenhouse Square—only good for the latest units of dysenteric text spewed out by the likes of HarperCollins and faithfully lauded to the skies by the New York Times bestseller list. Continue reading

Books vs. Beer

George Orwell’s “Books vs. Cigarettes” in the 21st Century // Jason Freure

A typical scene during Toronto’s spring book launch season

You can hear the complaint at almost any book launch: “People spend more money on beer than books.” Some make buying the books at a small press launch a point of pride. Some compromise, balancing their bar tab with deferred hours of reading. Others unabashedly get hammered and go home, totally unimpressed with everything they heard.

Judgments on liquor-consumption aside, why is it so important that reading attendants spend their money on books instead of beer? These events are often free. They are essentially publicity meant to move units. If tickets were sold, it might be more comparable to a concert, where you go, drink beer, and if the band fails to impress, you skip buying the album on the way out. The venue and the musicians still collect a part of the ticket sales. At a launch, the book could be seen as the price of admission. Magazines sometimes knock down the price of the new issue at the launch if they charge an entrance fee. However, book readings are free because they often make up the majority of a book’s publicity. If the attendants aren’t moved to buy the book, that’s either a failure with the material or a failure with the marketing. Not to say that it’s bad, only that it hasn’t connected with the audience. Continue reading

The Monkey’s Paw and Bibliophilia

An Interview with Toronto Bookstore Owner Stephen Fowler // André Forget

The Monkey's Paw
The Biblio-Mat brought to you by The Monkey’s Paw

The Monkey’s Paw is an antiquarian book shop specializing in rare and unusual print artifacts in Toronto. The store also houses the Biblio-Mat, a randomized book vending machine that runs on an Arduino microprocessor and the occasional thump.

André Forget: How did you become involved in antiquarian book sales? What was the genesis of The Monkey’s Paw?

Stephen Fowler: Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by old books, and working in the antiquarian trade was the simplest way to get to spend all my time around them.

As a young man, I worked in a number of secondhand bookshops in California, and of course visited and hung around many others. When I decided to open my own shop in Toronto, I tried to imitate all the features I had most appreciated in those other shops. I stole one idea here, one idea there, with the hope of creating the ideal bookshop.

André Forget: Even a cursory glance in your storefront window reveals that you aren’t the kind of place that stocks five used copies of The English Patient. What kind of a clientele do you attract?

Stephen Fowler: All sorts of people visit The Monkey’s Paw: young people and older people, tourists and locals, some wealthy, some penniless. I think it’s a healthy mix. The one thing that unites them (at least those who return a second time) is that they are bibliophiles: they crave the company of old books. Bibliophilia is an eccentric passion, like bird-watching; it’s inexplicable to the uninitiated, but it seems obvious and normal to those who suffer from it. Continue reading

Indigo and Gendered Book Marketing

Literature and Arbitrary Decorative Framing // Domenica Martinello

Franzen’s newest offering of chick-lit

Working at a bookstore, I discovered feminism, but not the way you’d think. At 17, the notion of working at a Chapters or Indigo shimmered with romance. The sheer scale of the big box bookstore is enough to dazzle, often equipped with multiple floors, a built-in café, and thousands of titles on seemingly any topic or genre. It’s a veritable smörgåsbord of delights reserved not only for the literati but for booklovers of every stripe. Pop culture tells us bookstores—all bookstores—are open, progressive spaces brimming with ideas and possibility. So it can come as a shock to realize that big box bookstores, consuming so much physical and mental real estate, can be so culturally shallow.

The word ‘culture’ is routinely dropped in to any conversation about bookstores, whether lamenting their demise or reaffirming their relevance. I worked for Indigo Books and Music for five years, long enough to experience the full spectrum of CEO Heather Reisman’s plan to transform her company into the “world’s first cultural department store.” As the bookstore transformed into an affluent, candle-scented oasis selling, alongside books, various decorative housewares, artisanal jams, fashion accessories, iPads, and toys, the shift in focus was off-putting, but not unique. Reisman’s vision may treat books as conversation pieces or status objects that pair nicely with a fancy lamp, but so do a lot of other stores. It is the gendered curation of Indigo as a so-called cultural department store that is alarmingly problematic. Continue reading

Tragicomic: An Interview with Anna Leventhal

On Humour, Place, and Craft // Andrew Forbes

Anna Leventhal
Anna Leventhal

Anna Leventhal is the author of the story collection Sweet Affliction (Invisible Publishing 2014), winner of the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s First Book Prize. Excerpts from the following interview appeared in an article on All Lit Up, but the entire interview is presented here because Leventhal had so much to say it seemed a shame to publish only select bits. This interview was conducted via email between January 13th and 21st of this year.

Andrew Forbes: Your stories are funny and sad, and it seems to me that your skill with humour makes the sadness all the more effective. The laughs disarm the reader, convince them to let their guard down (I’m thinking, for example, of the dialogue in “Gravity,” how easy and natural and funny it is, and how it makes the poignancy of that last image nearly heartbreaking). Are you conscious of this as you write?

Anna Leventhal: Well, first of all, I don’t think of myself as a humourist—I’m not actively trying to be funny or cute when I’m writing (though everyone knows that people who try to be funny never are, so of course I would say this even if it weren’t true). I aim for accuracy more that funniness, and sometimes am not aware that something’s funny until I read it out loud to an audience and get a laugh. Sometimes things are just weird, and the more plainly you describe them, the funnier they are, because of the tension between the raw, bald, bizarre fact of something and the attempt to render it understandable. Tig Notaro’s legendary stand-up set right after she was diagnosed with cancer—that’s a perfect example. You can hear it in people’s laughter—that kind of semi-hysterical, half-forced scary-sounding laughter, they’re like should we be laughing at this? Is this funny? That she’s taken it to that special numinous place of what the actual fuck is going on here? Continue reading

Montreal’s Argo Bookshop: A Sturdy Camp

An interview with JP Karwacki // Jason Freure

Argo Bookshop Exterior
The Argo Bookshop

Argo Bookshop (1915 Ste-Catherine St. O.) is Montreal’s oldest English-language bookstore. Opened by John George in 1966, it now belongs to Meaghan Acosta and JP Karwacki. Despite its 200 square feet, the store stocks no fewer than 6,000 titles. The store is also host to both the Argo Open Mic and its Featured Reading Series, providing a meeting space and venue for writers and readers in the Shaughnessy Village area. This interview took place over email.

Jason Freure: The Argo’s stretch of Ste-Catherine, sort of from St-Mathieu to Atwater, has seen a lot of shifts in the past few decades. Until 1996, the Canadiens played at the Forum only a few blocks away. The Seville Theatre was closed and abandoned in 1985, and now they’ve put up condos after thirty years of vacancy. The Cabot Square reconstruction is often blamed for the increased presence of homelessness on the stretch, too. How do you think The Argo managed to fare through the neighbourhood’s decline? Could it have been a good thing for the store? Continue reading