Until Sept. 26, the boutique bookstore – located in the main lobby of Penguin Random House’s headquarters in downtown Toronto – is dedicated to Vivek Shraya’s powerful book, I’m Afraid of Men, which was released on Aug. 29 by Penguin Canada. The Calgary-based interdisciplinary artist’s long-form essay melds her personal experiences with gender theory to illuminate the destructive power of masculine culture and how it has contributed to the vulnerability of trans, queer, and gender non-conforming people.
Sarah Labrie, PRHC’s associate director, sales marketing, says that the look and feel of the entire shop is focused on I’m Afraid of Men and its central messages. The eight-foot-high purple and acid-pink magnetic spines on the shop’s sliding shelves are emblazoned with the book’s title, as well as its counter title, “Men Are Afraid of Me,” which appears on the physical book’s back jacket. Along with Shraya’s book, the store also features other titles curated under themes such as “Teach Your Children,” “Extraordinary Lives,” “Wonder Women,” and “Writers to Watch.”
Shraya’s isn’t the first branded takeover; last April, the shop dedicated its 158-square-foot space to YouTube star Lilly Singh’s book, How to Be a Bawse (Doubleday Canada). Labrie, who worked on the project with customer experience specialist Maggie Finlayson, says this is one of its most ambitious, because it is the first time the Penguin Shop staff has selected books using non-traditional categories. “Usually you’d find fiction, non-fiction, biography, but this is really trying to dig down and be consumer friendly, and fit the theme of the shop. The whole idea of the shop is to undo the work of oppressive categorization, and we’re trying to do that with the books as well.”
In addition to books, the Penguin Shop is also selling I’m Afraid of Men branded merchandise, such as buttons and limited-edition signed posters. For the first time, it will also be carrying music with a selection of feminist-minded albums, including Part-Time Woman – Shraya’s Polaris Music Prize–longlisted EP with the Queer Songbook Orchestra – and music by Too Attached, her electro-pop duo with her brother, Shamik Bilgi. Ten per cent of all shop sales for the length of the takeover will be donated to the Tegan and Sara Foundation. “It was important to us to incorporate a charitable component in this event, particularly in support of LGBTQ girls and women,” says Labrie.