Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Shopping for books in Toronto

Whenever I visit Toronto, as I did last weekend, the bookstores are always a major attraction for me. Sure, I enjoy the shows, the restaurants, the museums and just about everything else about the city, but it's the bookstores I think about as I enter the city and as I leave.

Yet shopping for books there is always frustrating. The good news is a huge selection to chose from. Some of the stores are very large, including the one that calls itself the World's Biggest Bookstore. That may not be literally true -- Powell's in Portland seems bigger to me -- but it's close enough. Canada's Indigo stores are comparable to Barnes & Noble in the U.S. They're large, and their selection is magnificent.

These stores sell books from American publishers, as well as a broad selection of books from Canadian and British publishers that may be available in the U.S., but you are less likely to find them in any bookstore.

The frustrating part is, most of these books are terribly expensive. A mass market paperback that sells for $7.99 in the U.S. costs $9.99 in Canada. A book that sells for $12.95 in the U.S. is $16.50 in Canada. Most trade paperbacks now cost more than $20 in Canada.

This markup for Canadian shoppers may have made sense a few years ago when the rate of exchange favored Americans shopping across the border. You might once have gotten about $135 in Canadian currency for every $100 U.S. This is no longer true, and hasn't been true for several years. When I crossed into Canada last Friday, I got fewer Canadian dollars than I had American dollars. Yet Canadian booksellers must still charge more for books than U.S. booksellers do. So mostly I just wrote down the titles of books I craved, hoping to find them later in the United States.

Even so, there are bargains to be found in Canada, primarily when it comes to used and remaindered books. At a discount bookstore right next to the World's Biggest Bookstore, I found a wonderful selection of P.G. Wodehouse books selling for $6.99 or, in some cases, $8.99. The same books were selling next door for more than $20 each. I grabbed up several of them. They look new but do not have that black dot on them to indicate they are remaindered. At the same store I bought a trade paperback edition of Jar City, a mystery by Arnaldur Indridason, for $6.99.

At the World's Biggest, I bought a couple of nonfiction books at discounted prices - The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes for $9.99 (it had originally sold for $45 in Canada) and Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn for $5.99 (originally $32.50). Also I came out with a trade paperback of Railway to the Grave by Edward Marston, one in his Railway Detective series that, except for the first, I have never seen in the U.S. It cost $14.99, which I didn't think was bad for a book I may never see again.

So good book deals can be found in Toronto. It just takes a little work.

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