Shelagh tours the weirdest bookstore in Toronto
The Monkey's Paw bookstore in Toronto doesn't sell bestsellers or books on popular subjects. In fact, it doesn't sell anything published after 1980. The shop specializes in unusual, arcane and idiosyncratic books.
Shelagh Rogers visited The Monkey's Paw in 2013 and spoke to the owner, Stephen Fowler. When we heard that the store was celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, we decided to take another look at that very strange visit.
ON SELLING BOOKS ON "OBSOLETE OPINIONS" AND "HIGHLY SPECIFIC TOPICS"
Part of it is I just like this stuff, and I just wanted to sell the stuff I like. The other thing is that it was actually a little bit of a marketing concept — sell stuff that you can't find anywhere else! Just like with anything, book price is dictated by supply and demand, and if you have books of which there is no supply, there may not be demand either, but at least there's no supply! I'm not saying we've created a huge demand for these books, but they're not anywhere else so they're valuable. To somebody.
HOW HE CHOOSES THE BOOKS HE SELLS
What I look for when I'm looking for books is books that are beautiful, arcane, macabre and obscure. I buy books from estates, I travel to charity book sales all over. People bring me a lot of books now, so I buy over the counter. But there's a lot of footwork involved — I reject a lot more books than I buy.
AN EXAMPLE OF AN "ABSURD" BOOK
This is the Western Union Telegraphic Code: Universal Edition. It's from around 1900, and it's very hard to find any information about this book. But from what I understand, every character was precious when you were sending transatlantic telegrams a hundred years ago. So you had these codes that you would use to represent a whole phrase. What's so bizarre is the words they would pick and the phrases they'd pick — if you wanted to say "be sure you have sufficient proof," you would type "graselo." And then if you're at the other end and you get a telegram that just says "graselo," you have to have this book and find "graselo" and then you know they were telling you to make sure you have sufficient proof. And it goes on like this for almost 800 pages. It's absurd.
The Monkey's Paw has a book vending machine, known as the Biblio-mat. Check it out:
Stephen Fowler's comments have been edited and condensed.