Field Trip to The Monkey’s Paw Bookshop

We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.
– Walt Whitman

Sarah, on our team, suggested a field trip to The Monkey’s Paw bookshop on the west end, and of course me and the babies were game.

Actually, I remember this shop from when it was on Dundas West, back when we were also on Dundas West, and there was some initial behind-the-curtain confusion between Jon and I, when I told him we (Caleb and I) could just walk there easy-peasy-we’re-no-wimps and the shop turned out to have moved onto Bloor Street West, considerably farther from the old/new shop than I evidently mis-remembered.

In any case, we made it there. While today it’s freezing out in Toronto, we had made our trip out there last fall, in that crisp, clear weather that comes with autumn. Jon was at the shop for a calligraphy class, and the weather was just starting to turn over into the new season, and off we went, to a bookshop.

A beautiful shop, full of papery and inky things. The Monkey’s Paw is a used bookshop, but mainly a rare books type, an “antiquarian shop” rather than the used bookshops I tend to frequent. They don’t sell used copies of contemporary or modern fiction, which is primarily what I read these days. They have (long) out-of-print books, textbooks, old cookbooks, clothbound volumes, dime novels, along with with rare books. You can see on their website a Remote Window Display to see items even if you can’t stop by their shop.

One of the things The Monkey’s Paw is famous for is their Biblio-mat machine, which accepts tokens (you purchase a token at the cash for $3) and spits out a random book. What a delight! I’m trying not to accumulate things that I don’t love or use, but how could I resist the fates? I let Caleb have the honours.

And Caleb’s Bibliomat magic book? Young Children in Hospitals. A how-to guide for parents and guardians of children who need to stay in hospitals. Despite, as you might know, being prone to suspicions and omens and spiraling off into disasters, I’m taking this as a sign to appreciate two healthy, robust, imaginative babies, who leave yogurt stains on the couch and fight over string cheese and feed the dog off the high chair.

To this day, three months later, Caleb still enjoys “reading” his first chapter book.

On the (long) walk back, we stopped by Nova Era Bakery for a treat, and to take a closer look at our books. No better way to spend a fall afternoon, in good company, coming back from a bookshop, and with a warm drink. Perhaps particularly lovely to look back on as we confront this deep freezing, though sunny, weather ahead of us these next couple of months.

I don’t know if I’m at the stage of life where I’m able to read or take care of antique or older books – I’m more a utilitarian reader, with books that get tossed into the car, shoved into a bag, propped up on the table with a bowl of cereal, chewed on by a teething baby. Having just moved what seems like several times in the last few years, I’m trying to not add to the boxes of books.

And yet (yet!) I think it’s possibly a disease I have, where you accumulate books without meaning to, a bit like how those pens and notebooks multiply without you having any hand in it. I just can’t quite leave a bookstore without something: Selected Poems by Walt Whitman. Something, maybe, to read to the babies at night.

Two healthy babies, indeed.

I love visiting shops like this, both because and not because we ourselves are an independent business here in Toronto. It’s mostly because I believe so much in this idea that real humans and real families can run real shops in our cities and neighbourhoods and make a living at it. While there’s the money that gets siphoned back into local economy and all that, it’s more about the idea of the kind of life I believe we can still live in this age. We can open small businesses and shops and live in our communities and have relationships with other humans instead of screens. Sometimes it can be the loneliest in big cities, where you’re invisible and unknown, especially now that technology means we’re so often behind screens. But brick and mortar shops, where you come in and know the people behind the counter, I love that we can be part of this.


Currently reading: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Current shop project: staining wood for some displays

Currently looking forward to: spring

Currently in the oven: a rack of ribs with hoisin sauce

Current analogue project: decluttering and organizing my correspondence stationery (what do you do when it all sparks joy??)

Currently writing with:
Parker Duofold Ivory (Iroshizuku Shin-kai)
Parker Sonnet Brown Rubber (Lamy Dark Lilac)
Pilot Custom 92 Clear (Sailor Kobe No.7)
Lamy Swift rollerball
Mitsubishi Hi-Uni 6B (what a dream)
(among too many other pens to list


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