A New, New & Used Bookstore in Downtown Dundas

Tell me about yourself and your store’s staff.
My wife and I operate The Printed Word, though our youngest of four children is an infant, so I’m here most of the time; sometimes my wife comes in with the baby and I take the older kids for a hike. Quite often our oldest, who is eight, and a big reader, is here with me, reading in the kids’ room. My wife and I both have academic backgrounds; I like poetry, she likes fiction, but for both of us, books have been important from early on.

Do either of you have local roots?
My wife is from Buenos Aires, and I’m from Pickering. Our roots in Dundas date to academic work I did at McMaster University several years ago.

Should people think of The Printed Word as a new or as a used bookstore?
Both; we shelve new and used books together. It depends on the section, though; our philosophy and religion sections are mostly used and our children’s picture books are mostly new, while our poetry section is an even split – in part because we want to support small poetry presses. We carry some current and popular titles, but primarily we present books that aren’t readily available. Booksellers are under pressure to focus on bestsellers; every day my email inbox is flooded with messages from distributors, ensuring me that one of their new titles will be the book of the season. By next season, though, many have already fallen out of favour or been forgotten.

What significance does your store’s name hold for you?
We live in an increasingly digital world, in which books are being digitized and disappearing as material objects. Now, that’s okay for some genres, such as informational texts; yet language and writing aren’t merely informational. As a result, some genres don’t work on a Kindle. Children’s picture books, with their beautiful artwork, can’t be digitized; they’re meant to be physical objects that children can share with their parents or grandparents. With the exception of one tiny shelf, all of our picture books are new – though many are reprints of old classics. Poetry is another genre that can’t be digitized; I’ve never been able to read poetry on a screen as opposed to on a page with the same degree of enjoyment or immersion.

As well, the physicality of some books can be integral to them as texts. We carry titles by some really good local book designers and printers working in this tradition; their books have a particular feel, unusual type, or their construction works to extend their meaning. Such books can’t be digitized.

In general, we stock what we hope will be enduring titles, and to this end, we only order what we want to carry. If those titles don’t immediately sell, we’re prepared to keep them on our shelves, for people to look at and eventually discover.

How would you describe your store’s culture?
We live in a society that constantly browses – online. But we only ever find what we’re looking for when we search on the internet, and so we’re rarely surprised by what we find there. We encourage people to explore our materials when they visit; providing a physical space for chance encounter, we facilitate discovery, and when discovery happens, it’s just amazing! We’re also constantly discovering new things in our collection and from people who visit the store.

Tell me about the kinds of people who walk through your door.
They’re amazingly diverse and interested in many things. In one instance, a family came in and their teenage daughter spent an hour looking at one book. She was just completely immersed in it. It was Clean Sails, a work of concrete poetry. As well, many others who visit are delighted with what they find; ‘Gosh,’ some say, ‘I haven’t seen that book in thirty years!’

Does The Printed Word have something for every- one – even titles that might entice thriller or romance readers?
There are plenty of thrills in our vintage paperback section! Most were published in the ‘40s and ‘50s. On the one hand, they’re quick, fun, entertaining, thrills, yet some deal, on the other hand, with significant societal roles and tensions. Take the paperback Under the Skin, for instance, an interracial love story published by Phyllis Bottome in 1951.

Do you feel your store’s titles might be of interest to the local academic community?
Students and professors do visit our philosophy section, though it hasn’t been of interest to them exclusively. As far as I can tell, though, philosophy is huge! People are aware that surfing online tends to lead to pure information; they want more and recognize that good books offer just that.