There are a few things that just get better with cold weather: hot chocolate, sweaters, and curling up with a good book. As we get closer to the holidays, it’s a great time to not only get some new books for yourself to peruse, but to also gift a book to a loved one.
Where one turns to purchase those books, however, can be a harder choice than the book itself.
The battle between independent bookstores and large bookstore chains is a long one. As captured by Meg Ryan’s Kathleen in the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, whose charming bookstore “The Shop Around the Corner” goes under when faced with competition from Fox Books (but at least she found love with Tom Hanks’ Joe Fox?), independent bookstore owners have faced trials to keep customers around.
When Amazon came on the scene, these big box stores had the tables turned on them. Now they were faced with the challenge of a competitor with huge resources and selection at their disposal. Amazon does more than challenge bookstores big and small though; they challenge us to move past convenience and affordability to confront ugly truths about how Amazon does business.
Be it suppression of labor unions; poor treatment of their delivery drivers; Amazon’s monopoly over e-commerce; that Jeff Bezos’ wealth increased by $92 billion between March and August of this year while many, including Amazon workers, have struggled with the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic; or that people simply just prefer shopping in person and not having to worry about delivery, many are turning to sources other than Amazon for their shopping, including books. Here are just a few places Vancouverites can turn to for their literary explorations.
There are different options across the country to shop independent bookstores. While we don’t yet have a Bookshop.org, an online store that sources from and supports independent bookstores, there are amazing options available to us. In this list, I’ve highlighted options for getting books from sources that support the Indigenous Economy (see the article I co-authored here for why Indigenomics is so important as we build back better from COVID).
2671 E. Hastings St
Iron Dog Books is an Indigenous owned and operated bookshop and booktruck with a goal of bringing affordable books to people in Səl̓ilwətaɁɬ, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territories (Metro Vancouver). Not only do they have a fantastic holiday guide with booklists for the different kinds of readers on your list, and an awesome selection of books in-store, but you can order books through them (which proved useful for me when I wanted to get All We Can Save the week it was released).
They also have a Book Trade In Program where you can trade books for store credit. They have an additional option to donate your store credit, which they have given to organizations like Red Fox Healthy Living Society and Kiwassa Neighbourhood House.
229 E. Georgia St
A member of the Stó:lō Business Association, Massy Books is another 100% Indigenous owned and operated bookstore in the traditional, ancestral, unceded, and occupied territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
They have a great selection of the latest book titles, but their selection of rarer, unique books (some that are no longer in print) is truly amazing. I got the beautiful book set ‘The Time of Tea’ recommended to me by local tea sommelier Claudia of the duo behind Teakan. They are currently working on their annual 50/50 fundraiser to raise money for the Battered Women’s Support Services and the Writer’s Exchange.
Above the bookstore, they also have a 400 square foot art gallery that showcases work from emerging local artists. Massy Books is also partnered with Room Magazine on Indigenous Brilliance, a showcase of First Nations, Metís, and Inuit writers’ works. When we are not in the middle of a pandemic, you might find yourself at an event there too, as Massy Books’ shelves are also built on castors for easy moving to host events.
1387 Railspur Alley
I learned about Upstart and Crow when their Literary Gift Packages offering reached my Instagram feed. What I found when I looked further was a real treasure for anyone that appreciates the written word. They have a carefully curated selection focused on small, independent publishers that is organized based on key themes or experiences the book leaves the reader.
In addition, they have a Writers in Residence program and ‘Stories on the Fly’ or stories written just for the audience (the literary version of a Granville Island busker). Upstart and Crow is a partner of the Thistalalh Library, a community library in Bella Bella, Haíɫzaqv territory, and is helping them grow their collection of books. Check out their Literary Gift Packages for holiday options that pair books with locally sourced goods (think soaking salts, candles, body oils, etc.).
Though this books purveyor made the difficult decision to permanently close their physical location due to COVID-19, Strong Nations still operates their online book and gift store based on traditional Snuneymuxw territory that is 100% Indigenous owned and operated. They are also a publishing house, and all their published books are Made in Canada.
Strong Nations, in addition to their books and gifts, features toys, games, and other resources for the classroom. They also have a full line of educator resources, including lesson plans and an instructional framework, as well as a selection of books for every age and stage of learners.
Though not a bookstore, Raven Reads provides an exploration into what Indigenous authors and makers have to offer. 100% Indigenous owned and operated, Raven Reads is a monthly subscription box that curates books and gifts written and made by Indigenous peoples from around the world. Their boxes are not limited to adults either; Raven Reads has a box with goodies selected for children too. Subscriptions are seasonal, bi-annual, or annual and in the past have included books along with bath and body care, coffee/tea, cosmetics, artwork, and craft goods. Raven Reads goes a step further than just Indigenous representation in literature; they really create an Indigenous cultural experience for box recipients.
As someone who spends a lot of time talking about reducing waste, I sometimes wrestle with the expectations to give gifts come the winter holidays and my preference for physical books over an e-reader. However, walking into these bookstores and seeing what I’m supporting always reinforces my decision to continue shopping there.
Books give us an opportunity to immerse ourselves in another perspective or world, open our imagination, and suspend the world around us for a time. I can’t think of a better way to move into 2021 than equipped with new ideas and a fresh outlook on what is possible.