In the lead up to Canadian Independent Bookstore Day 2022, we invited authors and illustrators from across genres and career stages to share their appreciation for Canadian indies.
Check out what they had to say below!
When I was twenty, I went to work at Prospero Books in Ottawa. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer and, of course, I had a somewhat rosy idea of what working in a bookstore meant. Above all, I was entranced by the idea of being around so many books. Then, too, I was convinced I’d meet other, likeminded people, people who wanted to write or talk about writing or obsess about writers. My ideal bookstore was a conduit to the writing life. I’ve since worked in independent bookstores and chain stores. The places that have come closest to the bookstore in my mind have been the independents, stores where the owner(s) cared about books as passionately as I did. And where my coworkers were as obsessed with, say, the latest novel by x as I was. If there is a bookstore outside of Plato’s cave, it’s an independent, and probably Athenian.
– André Alexis, author of Ring (Coach House Books)
I love how indie bookstores care. Every time I go to my favourite bookstore, the staff recognizes me and has a recommendation, has put aside a book I mentioned, or has read something somewhere that they thought I should know about. It's very community-based and driven by a shared love of learning, knowledge, and that thrill of finding that next favourite book.
– Tenille K. Campbell, author of nedi nezu (Good Medicine) (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Stories have always been important, but who gets to tell those stories has always been problematic. Indie bookstores give space and a voice to those who don't always get heard. And since indie bookstores are rooted in community, they help inspire and educate local groups by making these stories accessible.
– Kern Carter, author of Boys and Girls Screaming (Cormorant Books)
My first career was in computing science and when it comes to recommendations, a bookseller who knows you outperforms any algorithm.
– Janie Chang, author of The Library of Legends (HarperCollins Canada)
There’s nothing like the magical wonder of entering a small and perfect bookstore for the first time, a place stocked with undiscovered treasures, and staffed by wizards ready to guide you to the perfect book. Can anything be better than a new book, recommended by someone with a true understanding and passion for stories?
– Lecia Cornwall, author of The Woman at the Front (Penguin Random House Canada)
My favourite indie bookstore is Indigenous-owned Iron Dog Books in East Vancouver. The staff members are friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, and all-around amazing. I order a lot of books through them (including difficult-to-find titles), and they always work hard to find what I am seeking. The store has a huge selection of Indigenous reads for all ages, is a safe and welcoming space for everyone, and they make contributions to local organizations.
– Sara Florence Davidson, author of Jigging for Halibut with Tsinii (Portage & Main Press)
My local indie bookshop makes me excited when I walk by. It’s like a candy store full of treats and possibility. An indie bookshop, unlike a real estate broker or a cell phone store, makes a neighbourhood worth visiting. They invite you to stay a while and introduce you to new worlds and friends. They are comforting, and I need all the comfort I can get! All this to say, I couldn’t be more grateful for indie bookstores, especially now when we need them the most.
– Tracy Dawson, author of Let Me Be Frank (HarperCollins Canada)
The magic of an independent bookstore is in its very title: independent. By virtue of being local, the store and its staff can cater to their consumers and their authors. Independent bookstores have freedom to create an atmosphere, specific to themselves and one that embraces the nuances of their geographic location. Not to mention that these bookstores work hard to maintain relationships with their authors, thereby helping to celebrate and keep Canadian literature alive, not just on the shelves, but in the hearts of readers.
– Natasha Deen, author of Lark Has the Shivers (Orca Book Publishers)
I am indebted to indie bookstores. As a reader, I've found just the right book by following the advice of a bookseller. Same goes for when I needed information about publishing my first novel. And with each book, it's been indie bookstores that have hosted events and spread the word about my work. A special shout out to Another Story Bookshop and Glad Day in Toronto!
– Farzana Doctor, author of You Still Look the Same (Freehand Books)
Independent bookstores are vital to communities. I live in downtown Toronto, and it’s always a joy to walk to Bakka-Phoenix whenever I need a book or a chat with knowledgeable book people. They’re also connected to the larger literary community. The staff at Bakka-Phoenix made sure that a signed copy of Oculum, my middle-grade, dystopia/climate-fiction title, was delivered to the Toronto Public Library, where it’s now a permanent part of the Merrill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy there. How cool is that! Take a bow, and thank you for all you do for us, Bakka-Phoenix!
– Philippa Dowding, author of Firefly (Cormorant Books)
Indie booksellers have been so supportive of my writing life and I'm grateful. They know their books, writers, and customers, and are an incredible resource for literature lovers. I'm honoured to work with indies, and I stand with them.
– Terry Fallis, author of One Brother Shy (Penguin Random House Canada)
My last in-person school presentation happened in Kelowna, BC just before the pandemic hit. The highlight of that week was visiting with Melissa Bourdon-King at Once Upon a Bookstore. I immersed myself in Melissa’s curated collection and eavesdropped as she recommended books to kids and parents who dropped in. The best part was getting to doodle in the authors' corner. I was a bit intimidated by Kevin Sylvester’s dragon, but at least Richard Scrimger only drew an elbow. I drew a pysanka – what else?!
– Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, author of Traitors Among Us (Scholastic Canada)
In a culture of buzzy “must reads” and “next big things,” indie bookstores foster that rare, wonderful, tactile element of personal literary discovery, a quiet place to find a read just for you, a genuine escape beyond all the noise. Amongst shelves and tables that feel lovingly curated by a thoughtful friend, I’ve found myself stumbling upon a book that seemed to arrive right on time. Honestly, I owe so much of my development both as a writer and a reader to those small, quiet, browsing moments where, thanks to a neighbourhood indie bookstore, a book made its way to me just when I needed.
– Stacey May Fowles, author of Good Mom on Paper (Book*hug Press)
During that brief, hopeful summer of 2021, when I was first fully vaccinated and businesses started to reopen, one of the first places I went was my neighborhood bookstore. I'd been buying from their online shop, but there was nothing like wandering between the shelves, reading first pages, discovering a new voice that I had to take home. Above all else, I love indie bookstores for the people who work there, who know their customers and communities as an algorithm never could – the bookseller who recommends the perfect gift for your niece, the small press book that flew under the radar, the book that you didn't know you needed.
– Kim Fu, author of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century (Coach House Books)
I love everything about independent bookstores. I love the look of them (shelves bursting with titles I want to read, and that the seller knows), the smell of them (paper, coffee, paper), the sound of them (a warm buzz, like drowsy summer bees.) I love the excitement of discovery – what titles has the seller put on the front table, and what is next to it? My wonderful local bookstore, Books on Beechwood in Ottawa, cherishes all its local authors and shows the same affection for its customers. And did I mention the children’s section, or the resident dog? Every independent bookstore has its own wonderful idiosyncrasies, and I’m deeply grateful to all of them for understanding the need to cherish Canadian authors, stories, and culture.
– Charlotte Gray, author of Murdered Midas (HarperCollins Canada)
Speaking to a friend: You’ve got to visit King West Books in Hamilton, ON. Dave, the owner, knows everybody in town. He will chat with you, figure out your interests and help you find the right books. He knows CanLit. He knows Canadian writers and their books. He features them in the window of his store. He can help you make connections with other cultural groups in town, and most of all, make you feel that when you visit his store, you’re stepping into the home of a friend.
– Lawrence Hill, author of Beatrice and Croc Harry (HarperCollins Canada)
I love independent bookstores because of their focus on community. When I walk into an independent bookstore, or even if I purchase from one online, I am made to feel like more than a buyer or consumer. I think that's because each independent bookstore has its own clear and thoughtful identity, one that is aware of and in relation to its community. My independent bookstore is Another Story Bookshop in Toronto. They have an unwavering commitment to social justice, and I am grateful for what they offer to me as a community member.
– Mahak Jain, author of Bharatanatyam in Ballet Shoes (Annick Press)
Dear Indie Bookstores: Thank you for knowing your customers and being an essential part of your community. Thank you for handselling special books to us and thank you for handselling special books by us. Walking into your stores is like visiting your most thoughtful and interesting friend’s house where the décor is wall-to-wall culture, information, experience, and plain old entertainment. We would be lost without you.
– Susan Juby, author of Me Three (Penguin Random House Canada)
From the start of my reading life independent bookstores felt like a gateway to the wider world for me. They are also a heartbeat in any neighbourhood. Supporting them is supporting ourselves.
– Guy Gavriel Kay, author of All the Seas of the World (Penguin Random House Canada)
Indie bookstores make me feel like I’ve just entered this other dimension where there's nothing but the warm and fuzzy feeling of being surrounded by books and fellow book lovers. Sometimes it doesn’t matter which continent they’re on, the familiarity is universal. It’s always my favourite part of any trip.
– Sabina Khan, author of Zara Hossain is Here (Scholastic Canada)
Indie bookstores are more than simply places to make purchases. They are places for communities to form – whether it is a fleeting moment found in a chat with the salesperson who has deep knowledge and passion for your favourite genre or an event featuring local writers you are just discovering. Indies offer the stuff that keeps a rich literary culture alive, and as a writer, I am deeply grateful.
– Carrianne Leung, author of That Time I Loved You (HarperCollins Canada)
A Different Drummer books in Burlington, ON is an incredible place. Founded in 1970 by Al Cummings and John Richardson, it’s now run by Ian Elliott, who joined the store in 1990 stocking shelves and opening boxes. Ian is a true champion of authors big and small. You’ll find books in the store you may not get your hands on anywhere else. Visit a couple of times and you’ll be greeted by your first name and given personal recommendations based on what you’ve enjoyed thus far. And did I mention the building? It’s easy to while away a couple of hours in this charming Victorian red brick house, moving between the three distinct levels filled with books and nooks to read. A Different Drummer is a gem that everyone far and wide should have the pleasure of experiencing. Visit once, return for life.
– Hannah Mary McKinnon, author of Never Coming Home (HarperCollins Canada)
I was a HUGE fan of Ben McNally Books in Toronto before I became an author. When my first book was accepted, I walked into the store with a trepidatious heart and explained that my first book was coming out, and of course, his schedule must be full, but this was my first choice for a book launch, so I had to ask, even if I was sure the answer would be “no.” He turned away and I thought, well, at least you tried, when he turned back with a big book. “What date are you thinking?” He asked. That's Ben McNally, the big man with the bigger heart. He made a new author’s heart explode that day.
– Angela Misri, author of ValHamster (Cormorant Books)
There’s something special about being a regular at your favourite bookstore. It’s your special spot. When you’re a regular, you build that relationship with the people, not just the store. It’s a mutual exchange of learning more about each other. As they get to know you, they can potentially open your mind to titles that you might not have considered before. That's what makes them so special.
– Brandon Mitchell, author of Giju’s Gift (Portage & Main Press)
Independent bookstores have been critical in diversifying the voices that readers are exposed to. Books open the world of literature to different cultures, genders, and sexual orientations and independents make sure marginalized communities have a voice that’s represented equally in reading choices.
– Zarqa Nawaz, author of Jameela Green Ruins Everything (Simon & Schuster Canada)
Every time I'm in a new town, I always like to visit the local bookstore. Each one is unique, with its own smell, its own selection of books and its own passionate owner. My favourite bookstore is in the village next to where my parents live. It smells like plants and paper, has a great graphic novel section, and the owner always seems to have some weird and wonderful new book to show me.
– Dom Pelletier, author of The Lunch Club #4: Revenge of the Bigfoot (Scholastic Canada)
The atmosphere of an independent bookstore is like no other. Booksellers aren’t just putting a book in your hand; they’re making a vital and personal connection between reader and writer. I wouldn’t be here today if not for independent bookstores. They are so important to Canadian culture, as much as any museum.
– Louise Penny, author of The Madness of Crowds (Macmillan)
Independent bookstores create a sense of community. They create a hub of ideas, warmth, and genuine connection. In a time where we are becoming more and more isolated from each other, there is no better experience than walking into an independent bookstore and having conversations with people about what we've experienced alone, within the pages of a great book. When I think of great independent bookstore experiences I think of Queen Books, Book City, Flying Books, and Type in Toronto. All these places have provided me with magical experiences, the discovery of new books, and vibrant conversations at the same time.
– Sarah Polley, author of Running Towards the Danger (Penguin Random House Canada)
We crave connection now more than ever. Having just come out of a period of isolation, we realize what we’ve missed – each other! Whether it’s a conversation with a local bookseller or a neighbour about current events or current books, indies offer a meeting place for us to converse about what matters most.
– Nita Prose, author of The Maid (Penguin Random House Canada)
In an era of bookselling shadowed by standardization, corporate greed, and algorithms, indie bookstores remind us of the communities that can form around books. Indies model for us ethical spaces that reflect the needs and interests of our neighbours, places that invest in community by way of good wages and support for local causes and organizations, and that nurture the writers and artists who may go on to become household names. It is hard to imagine a thriving and vibrant literary community without them.
– Jason Purcell, author of Swollening (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Here's to indie bookstores, the ones who've managed to hang on and the ones who've turned their last page! Kidsbooks in Vancouver is a favourite. They know who I am and that means a lot. Tug was born thanks to a smart staff member. I was between books and asked what gaps she noticed in the world of children's books. She was able to narrow down my focus and I soon began writing a local story about logging and tugboats. I'm so happy to be able to publicly thank them for their support (and love of books).
– Scot Ritchie, author and illustrator of Tug (House of Anansi Press)
What I love most about indie bookstores is the feeling of home I get when I walk through their doors. Indies have been incredibly supportive throughout my writing career. They’ve always gone the extra mile to build a personal relationship with me, and that sort of loyalty is something you can only get with an independent bookstore. There’s a sense of genuine love and respect, and what says “home” more than that?
– David A. Robertson, author of Version Control (Portage & Main Press)
Independent bookstores are vitally important to Canadian writers and readers. If you’re looking for books that reflect your stories, chosen by booksellers who are an integral part of your community, there’s no better place to start than your local indie.
– Jennifer Robson, author of Our Darkest Night (HarperCollins Canada)
I was checking out at my local bookstore the other day, and the bookseller took one look at my pile of books that included everything from Pulitzers and Gillers to People Magazine picks and smiled. I started to explain all my choices, but they just laughed and said, "I don't judge what another person reads. I celebrate the fact that they're reading!" I love that. Indie bookstores are an essential part of the community. Every author – and reader – needs them.
– Gina Sorell, author of The Wise Women (HarperCollins Canada)
I love that I can walk into an indie bookstore I've never been to and immediately lose my bearings. Alongside the more diverse book selection, it really sparks my drive to explore. In a world that hungers for so much certainty and clarity, it is a gift to be able to get a little lost sometimes. At an indie, you never quite know what you're going to find. The chains are far too cookie cutter to inspire such an experience.
– John Elizabeth Stintzi, author of My Volcano (Arsenal Pulp Press)
I served for eight years on the editorial board of This Magazine where one of my favourite people was John Saul. Then I learned that his daughter Joanne had opened a bookstore, Type Books in Toronto. When I first visited, it was like walking into John’s legacy. The store had an intellectual tenor – no tchotchkes scattered around – this was about authors and books. To see the books in the flesh, feel their spines and covers, hold them – that’s what a bookstore offers which the cyber world can never give you. Thank you, Jo and Samara.
– Rosemary Sullivan, author of The Betrayal of Anne Frank (HarperCollins Canada)
Indie bookstores and booksellers are so many things – community hubs, personal shopping helpers, tastemaker centres. But there’s even more. Because it’s the indies that embrace the new, the strange, the cool, the different – and yes, the small and the Canadian. So many of us are authors today because something we wrote or drew caught the eye and ear of an INDIE bookseller. They believe in books so fiercely that they then fight on behalf of that book. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have the rich book culture Canadians enjoy.
– Kevin Sylvester, author of Hockey Super Six: Shooting Stars (Scholastic Canada)
A global pandemic wasn’t how I envisioned my debut novel entering the world. Independent bookstores were closing, and authors were touring virtually. But amid the uncertainty, in the small town of Gananoque, ON, Alison Dunn at Beggars Banquet Books went above and beyond to champion my novel. She delivered books across the county where my novel was set. She told everyone about it and promoted it online. She did all this, and we’ve only met twice. Alison reflects the best of what independent bookstores do for Canadian writers. They shine a light on our books so that readers can find them.
– Katie Tallo, author of Poison Lilies (HarperCollins Canada)
My local bookstore is Another Story in Toronto. As a local author, I’m grateful for their ongoing support of my work. As a reader, I’m grateful for their keen curatorial eye – I’ve walked into Another Story and had my worldview altered by books on their front display table.
– Jillian Tamaki, author of Our Little Kitchen (House of Anansi Press)
I love indie bookstores because, like fingerprints or DNA, they reflect the individuality of those who own and run the store, as well as those who shop there. Many of the big box stores are like a restaurant that tries to please everybody. Indies cater to those with specific, refined, and special tastes. I really do appreciate that.
– Drew Hayden Taylor, author of Chasing Painted Horses (Cormorant Books)
I owe my writing career to indie bookstores. Literally. On a whim more than 25 years ago, I joined a Writing for Children workshop held in the same bookstore I had been taking my toddlers to – Mable’s Fables in Toronto. At the end of that first session, I got it! This, this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wrote my first published book in that basement, and it is the indies that have kept my career going ever since.
– Teresa Toten, author of Eight Days (Scholastic Canada)
There’s something undeniably special about going into a bookstore like no other. About running your hand along a shelf of books compiled not by an algorithm, but by Beth behind the counter, who would be happy to recommend something you might not otherwise pick up, or help you find that one book (“the one about Emily Bronte’s ghost, don’t you know the title’s slipped my mind entirely but I can see it, oh gosh, it’s got a red cover, I read it five years ago now…”). And then to see your own book, there on that shelf of specially chosen books, waiting to be recalled when Beth is given a five-word mash of descriptors from a reader and sent on the hunt? It makes your heart grow three sizes.
– Bryn Turnbull, author of The Last Grand Duchess (HarperCollins Canada)
For a crime writer, a mystery bookstore is like a crash course on the craft, and I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t get much better than Toronto’s Sleuth of Baker Street. The owners, Marian Misters and J.D. Singh, know their fictional crime scenes and guide readers expertly down those mean streets with their personalized recommendations. If you’ve got mystery and crime fiction needs, they’ll solve them faster than you can say, “case closed.”
– Vanessa Westermann, author of Cover Art (Cormorant Books)
Bookstores matter to a neighbourhood. I'm biased, because I met the love of my life at Pulp Fiction Books in East Vancouver. But that serves to make my point – in bookstores, people and ideas collide in marvellous ways.
– Sam Wiebe, author of Hell and Gone (Harbour Publishing)
As a student in Calgary in the 1980s, I worked at an independent bookstore. We offered curious, eclectic customers a bookstore experience like no other, and the espresso bar at the back of the shop was a delightful touch. Today, going to an indie bookshop reminds me of shopping at my local farmers’ market where I can find unique products that big box supermarkets don’t offer. I think of the independent bookstore as kind of like a farmers’ market for the mind.
– Eldon Yellowhorn, author of Sky Wolf’s Call (Annick Press)
Indie bookstores are the best friends of authors with their unrivaled enthusiasm “in the field!” I love collaborating and interacting with indies. Shout out to Massy Books, an Indigenous-owned indie bookstore in Vancouver, that got me the most amazing vegan cake when I held an award acceptance ceremony there. They had whole aisles showcasing Indigenous literature and gave me some amazing recommendations when I asked for books to decolonize my worldview!
– Xiran Jay Zhao, author of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor (Simon & Schuster Canada)
Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Thank you to all those who submitted love notes and special thanks to Authors for Indies for their support.