Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

April 19, 2010

Toronto’s Best-Kept Book Secret?

Despite a childhood lived almost exclusively within the walls of public libraries across the country, I have grown into a woman who really likes to own books. Erasmus supposedly said “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” – and if he didn’t say it, I will certainly take credit. Buying books is a great pleasure of mine.

So, of course, any[1] source of good, inexpensive books is a source I will haunt faithfully. One of the very best of these is the Sale Section at my home-away-from-home, the Bob Miller Book Room. I am not alone in this assertion – more than once I have run into local rare book dealers and book scouts scouring the section. These are people who Would Know.  On the other hand, sometimes I think nobody knows except me and these few dealers.

The Bob Miller Book Room is hazily known to most English students at the University of Toronto and not many other people.  Though it is not a university bookstore, it’s hidden location in the basement of a Bloor Street office building keeps it a virtual secret from anyone except those who have been sent there (i.e. the students) and those who are In The Know.  We specialize in humanities and social sciences books with an unusually large stock of “academic” titles you won’t find elsewhere, which is wonderful in and of itself but what should make the store a beacon to book lovers everywhere is the sale books.

Unlike most bookstores, the Bob Miller Book Room has a sale section based on our regular stock, rather than on cheaply-acquired publisher’s overstock titles.  As of this morning this amounts to eight jam-packed bookcases of assorted titles in no particular order all offered for 50-75% off the cover price.  How the owners decide what gets tossed in this section is a mystery to me.  The titles range from the canon to the obscure, from small presses to large ones, and often includes books which can also be found for full price elsewhere in the store.  What’s not to love here?

New Canadian Library (NCL) titles were scattered all over both sections.  I nearly cried when I found this:  Margaret Ostenso’s Wild Geese for 75% off.  That’s like $2.50!   Where was this book when I was looking for it last month?  Ah well, a prize for someone else to claim.

Small press titles abound, especially from Canadian presses, like Michael deBeyer’s Change in a Razor-backed Season from Gaspereau Press ($18.95-75% = $4.74)

The Bob Miller Book Room specializes in scholarly works, so you can find weird things like these:

Or Nobel and Booker winners like these:

Or “One of Charlotte’s Favourite Books Ever” like this one:

Needless to say I have gone nuts over the last month, blowing to smithereens my “read 5 off the shelf, buy 1 from the store” rule. Among my own buys? Alberto Manguel’s Library at Night, the new Penguin Classics translation of The Tain, Adrian John’s The Nature of the Book, Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God, Salman Rushdie’s Ground Beneath Her Feet… and I’m gonna stop listing now because if my husband reads this and sees how many books I’ve smuggled into our already-overflowing bookshelves, he’ll plotz. Suffice to say I have nearly filled an entire shelf. But it was cheap! And what’s a little shelf space? This is, after all, what I live for.

The Bob Miller Book Room’s sale section remains in place year-round, until the books are all gone. And if you drop by, be sure to say hi to yours truly!

[1] Any ethical, let me say – you could not pay me to shop at certain used bookstore chains who almost certainly traffic to a large extent in stolen books.

7 thoughts on “Toronto’s Best-Kept Book Secret?”

  1. danuv says:

    Part of me is very happy that this bookstore is far far away from me and if a similar type store exists in Atlanta my bank account hopes I never find it.

  2. Kerry C says:

    Okay, you may be getting a visit from me one of these days. I’ve not been to the Bob Miller Bookroom since undergrad when we were herded like cattle…

    1. Charlotte says:

      Yes, that’s life here about two weeks out of every year. But the rest of the time it’s quiet, dignified and quite pleasant!

  3. JK says:

    Wow! I really thought I was in the know about places for cheap books in TO, but I missed this somehow! You had me salivating with those sample titles.

  4. Steph says:

    Titus Groan! I love Gormenghast!! And what an awesome copy you show…

    I want to read Library at Night, still. It’s been on my list forever.

  5. Steph says:

    PS. did you know BBC did a Gormenghast series? I have yet to find and watch… a few LOTR actors in it!

    1. Charlotte says:

      I have this on DVD! If any book can be described as unconventional, literate speculative fiction, it’s probably on that “favourite books ever” list. 😉

      I had a (nerd moment here) World of Warcraft guild we called Gormenghast…

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