Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Aug. 19 and 26: Independent Book Culture in Toronto: an interview with Charlie and Jesse Huisken of This Ain't the Rosedale Library

Toronto has money. But no money for small bookstores. Pages bookstore has recently closed. The Toronto Women's Bookstore has been calling for support to stay afloat, as well as Glad Day Books.

Toronto has money from developers and rich professionals moving in, and rent going up. Independent bookstores can't pay high rents created by condo developments.

We need small publishing houses. We need small independent bookstores. What does it say about Toronto's priorities (and Canada's priorities?) When writers can't make any money from writing, where there is very little financial support for writers, small publishers and small stores? Its looking bleak.

I met up with Jesse and Charlie Huisken of This Ain't the Rosedale Library - a great independent bookstore that has recently been forced to close (at least temporarily). We drank coffee, and sat outside in the extremely hot sun and talked about the history of This Ain't the Rosedale library (around since 1979), modernism and literature, lack of places for book events, for readings for people to meet, what it means for readers in Toronto if we can't find books we're looking for (or that we don't know exist yet?), or develop a sense of bodies of work. Ideas suffer,grass roots politics suffer, we aren't learning from eachother as much as we could be (in a big way),amazing writer's work goes unread and unknown because its just not being distributed, its all very frusterating and depressing.... and yet....talking about this with Jesse and Charlie I can't help but feel encouraged and inspired by their dedication, by their ability to reflect on, and sum up book culture, gentrification and the value of books. I have met like-minded people who have worked so hard for things I believe in too.

Since conducting this interview, I keep talking about this. I wonder about calling on our municipal, provincial and federal government, and arts councils to consider a responsibility to book and literary culture, not through sponsoring once in a while big flashy festivals, but investing in the people who really put the work in. Not just people who are famous for the moment. Not just people who get 15 minutes on the CBC.

I don't know. I don't trust the federal government. I don't trust the province of Ontario. I don't know how much I want them involved in independent bookstores. But I wonder about what could be done. Maybe rent for small bookstores could be subsidized, or maybe there could just be far better rent control for all small businesses.

When only big stars of writing are celebrated. When we have a few big festivals and awards, and those are the books that people buy, theres all this other stuff authors are making... how do we find it? How do we support authors doing this exciting and essential work? When big corportaions (like Chapters) control book distribution, consider big store's political priorities, consider what books would be threatening or challenging to this big power in various ways. Think about all the books on your shelves and where you found them, or how you learned about those authors and think about how to support small bookstores, small publishers, earnest amazing writers, how can we support all of this more? We benefit from all of this. This is how we learn about ourselves. This is how we learn about our culture and our history. this is how we continue the conversation.

Check out: http://www.thisaint.ca

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