For once, the hype was all true. Stepping into Nicholas Hoare Books for the first time is like meeting your best friend’s best male friend she’s been trying to hook you up with for months, and finally understanding what all the fuss was about.
As someone whose entire childhood can easily be boiled down to an extended afternoon in the Braeburn Primary School library, my first experience with Nicholas Hoare Books on Front Street, just east of Yonge, was love-at-first-sight, mixed in with a healthy dose of nostalgia.
It was a lot of things that struck me initially.
The cozy feeling of the comfortable sofa and easy chairs arranged around a fireplace in the middle of the store like they’d come right out of someone’s living room, the exposed red brick walls, the shelves upon shelves of books (including cash registers disguised as bookshelves – or perhaps it’s the other way round), and the rolling ladders allowing access to the upper stacks. It’s like a very well-stocked personal library with comfortable chairs and music – that just happens to be open to the public.
Nicholas Hoare Books is actually comprised of a group of independent bookstores specializing in a wide array of literature, but with a special focus on British authors not easily found in say, your local big chain bookstore. There are two other locations – one in Ottawa, and another in Montreal.
On the website, the stores are described as, “Elegant bookshops, predominantly British, offering a broad selection of carefully chosen books of all kinds: the best of fiction, current affairs, biography, food & wine, with design, travel, and unusual books for children.”
Not only does it provide such a wealth of literature, but Nicholas Hoare Books (at least the one on Front St) also runs a book club. The last time I was in the store, writer Devyani Saltzman was talking to an intimate gathering of readers seated around the aforementioned fireplace, about her book “Shooting Water”. In the book, and during the club meeting, she detailed the experience of rebuilding a relationship with her mother, filmmaker Deepa Mehta, against the backdrop of trying against all odds to film the latter’s movie “Water” in India.
That was just one of many events the bookshop runs – and very helpfully informs store customers of via Twitter.
My relationship with books and reading is that of a fish with a bait-hook. When it comes to bookstores, I simply cannot walk past one without having to almost physically fight the urge to go in, just for a few minutes…(translation – hours.) If I find myself unable to put down a book and walk away from it after a few pages – say, twenty – it’s going in the bag. Usually because I’m tired of standing around with four or five titles in my other hand.
But then, it’s not every bookstore that provides you with comfortable leather sofas and easy chairs in the middle of the store, and small, quaint, wooden stools in the brick-lined corners of walls where tall shelves intersect. Not to mention the elevated set of shelves with green-carpeted steps leading up to them – all of it an open invitation to sit and get comfortable.
Most bookstores are about the books (dead. giveaway.) but at Nicholas Hoare Books, it is also about the singular experience of reading.