In an era when physical book retailers are fewer and far between, Martha Sharpe has come up with a radical idea. Flying Books is a bookstore within another store: a small, expertly curated rotating selection of titles, often found in unlikely places.
“There just aren’t enough bookstores in Toronto,” says Sharpe of the concept’s genesis. “People don’t know that books are on a table [at big booksellers] because the publisher paid for the placement,” she says. “The general public often thinks someone read that book and loved it enough to put it there. But they’re being guided toward something.”
Sharpe, the former publisher of House of Anansi Press, wanted to bring back the “read it and loved it” approach to selling books. Rather than try to make a go of a standalone shop of her own, she formed partnerships with the owners of a variety of independent business across the city, including a gift shop, a hotel, and a coffee house. At the Gladstone Hotel, the books have their own shelf at the front desk. At Northwood General they’re housed in an antique apothecary cabinet belonging to the owner. Sharpe has plans to continue to expand the now year-old project, including a pop-up at Likely General Store on Roncesvalles Avenue in November.
Each Flying Books location is identified with a sign designed by Canadian-born author-illustrator Leanne Shapton, and Sharpe vets the collections – or “flights,” as she calls them – sometimes relying on the advice of writers whose work she knows and loves. “Guest choosers” have included authors Sheila Heti, Amy Stuart, and Iain Reid. Last fall, author Lynn Crosbie curated an eclectic Halloween-themed collection, featuring Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and James St. James’s Party Monster.
For now, the selection of books is the same at all locations, except when books sell out. There are no permanent agreements with any of the host locations and Sharpe is sometimes asked to remove her stock when the owners want to use the space themselves. This doesn’t pose a problem for Sharpe, who can set up and dismantle her collection in minutes, transporting the books by bike in her Mountain Equipment Co-op panniers. “I’m a Portlandia episode,” she jokes. – Raizel Robin