Home Arts ARTiculate: Turning the page on big-box bookstores

ARTiculate: Turning the page on big-box bookstores

by Rebecca Ugolini March 13, 2012
ARTiculate: Turning the page on big-box bookstores

Candles, teddy bears, teapots, iPod holders and even puffy, white, faux sheepskin blankets: walking through the ground floor of Ste-Catherine Street’s Indigo, it’s almost a surprise to discover that the store also sells—get this—books!

Across the island, it seems like major bookstores are focusing on selling unrelated paraphernalia in an attempt to make as much profit as possible, marketing to impulse-buyers and last-minute gift givers rather than real readers. It’s a shame that in a city with so many great independent booksellers, when most people need to get a book, magazine or comic, they’ll flock to a major outlet rather than discover some of Montreal’s lesser-known, better-stocked bookshops.

That’s what this week’s ARTiculate is about: starting a new chapter in our book-buying lives, looking beyond the big-box stores to the many little nook-and-cranny stores that offer more interesting merchandise, a far more knowledgeable staff and a less stressful shopping experience.

Fiction and non-fiction:

It’s only fair to begin with the McGill Ghetto’s long-established The Word Bookstore (469 Milton St.) Whether you need a book for class, want to pick up a nice (and possibly signed) edition of a classic for yourself or as a gift, or would just like to discover a new favourite novel, The Word has the staff and the stock to make sure you’ll find what you need. Every year, owner Adrian King-Edwards and his staff organize the massive Montreal Antiquarian Book Fair, hosted in our very own LB building, bringing antique, rare and limited-edition printings to the bibliophile.

Remember that little shop on Ste-Catherine Street with the cats, the boxes of books outside on the sidewalk, and the dimly-lit, unbelievably full shelves? Although it’s no longer at its old location, Westcott Books (4065 St-Laurent Blvd.) is still alive, well, and is ready to satiate even the most voracious readers. The new location looks spacious, airy, and features large front-store windows, and still stocks a great assortment of fiction and non-fiction from the words of Whitman to how-to manuals and photo books.

If you’re more of a Mile End person, S. W. Welch (225 St-Viateur W.) should be your bookstore of choice. It’s one of those tried-and-true gems that does everything right: from its cozy and welcoming atmosphere, organized and neat shelves, and wide variety of offerings in poetry, prose, and non-fiction, whatever you’re looking for, it’s a safe bet that S. W. Welch has got it. And if you just walk in to browse, you’re more than likely to discover something great.

Buying used is a preferred strategy of mine: it’s cheaper, better for the environment, and somehow more serendipitous than buying new. For when you’re just not finding that academic book for class, though, downtown’s Argo Bookshop (1915 Ste-Catherine W.) is probably your best bet. Argo often works with professors and classes in ordering copies of specific books, and they’ve usually got the best editions and translations on hand. Like most little shops, it’s got that cozy, comforting feel to it, and great staff to go with it.

Comics and manga:

Those of you who read comics know that there’s a certain ritualistic element involved in going to your usual comic bookshop: downtown’s 1000000 Comix (1418 Pierce) exemplifies that experience. On the outside, there’s the appeal of the facade itself, covered on one side by a superhero mural, and on the inside, it’s even better: knowledgeable staff will help you find whatever it is you’re looking for, suggest new titles, and create a hold list for you, keeping your titles aside each time they come in (perfect for distracted readers like yours truly). The main organizers of the Montreal ComicCon, 1000000 Comix helps to put the Montreal comic scene on the map, and as a testament to their success, the event gets bigger and better each year.

If it’s manga you’re interested in, Sci-Fi Anime (2186 Ste-Catherine W., suite 101) is your new haven. Run by a very friendly and well-versed owner whose Gundam model-making skills are unparalleled, the shop stocks the newest manga, anime, model kits and figurines straight from Japan. Bonus: they have a great liquidation section, with titles going as cheap as $3-4, and their entrance room is full of completed, professional-grade models and figures.

And how could we discuss Montreal comic retailers without mentioning the Mile End’s Drawn & Quarterly (211 Bernard St. W.)? Both a publishing house and an excellent shop, D&Q is known across the world as one of the finest comic publishing houses, and regularly hosts book launches, talks and events. If you’re looking for something more on the alternative side of comics, this is your best bet: just be careful, once you start browsing, it’s almost impossible to stop.

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