We’re featuring some of the stories from this year’s Best of the City magazine. Enjoy this series, which will be clearly marked in the headlines.
Contributor to the News
Sometimes just before closing, when Munro’s Books bookseller Sarah Mead-Willis walks down the darkened aisles of books, she can almost hear the voices of the people who inhabit the scores of volumes lining the shelves.
“You can feel it. There are all these people with tales to tell, just waiting to be discovered,” she says. “That’s the magic of books, really. They are very patient, and when you’re ready they will always be willing to share their stories.”
Munro’s Books has been a destination for book lovers for more than 50 years, occupying a landmark location in the heart of Victoria since 1963, when Jim Munro and his wife and later celebrated author Alice Munro first set up the business. It was even chosen No. 3 in the world’s top 10 bookstores in 2016, as part of a National Geographic book, Destinations of a Lifetime.
But as iconic as Munro’s may be, it is only one of a host of book stores in what is arguably one of the most literate, book loving cities in the world.
“The number of book stores we have is really a reflection of the people of Victoria,” says Jordan Minter, who has owned and operated Russell Books downtown since 2000 with his wife, Andrea. “We love reading and we love books, and we have an incredible number of authors in the city as well. It is, perhaps, the best place anywhere to be in the book selling business.”
The bookstore was originally opened by Andrea’s grandfather in 1961 and has remained in the family ever since.
Minter can’t say, definitively, what has led to Victoria’s fascination with books, but he speculates it may be due to a combination of factors. One is that as a university and college town, Victoria has a large number of students, professors and teaching staff with a natural affinity to the written word. The large number of retirees in the city has also helped to support Victoria’s book store community, he adds.
Another piece of the puzzle of why Victorians love their bookstores may lie in education. While the national average for people with university degrees, certificates or diplomas at or above the bachelor level is 28.5 per cent, that number tops 42 per cent in Victoria, according to Statistics Canada.
“I think what’s wonderful to see is that, when the parents are readers, they pass that love of books on to their children. And it’s a great time to be a child reader. The old books are still out there, but there are so many very talented children’s authors writing today,” notes Mead-Willis.
As to the proliferation of authors in Victoria, she chuckles before offering her theory.
“I think there is just something about the Island that is congenial to the creative mind,” she says.
“Maybe they just have come as far west as they can and it’s only natural that they end up here. Whatever the reason, we’re very fortunate to have them.”
To discover a list of bookstores around Greater Victoria, simply punch that phrase into a Google search and you’ll come up with a lengthy list.
BOC Top 3 Bookstores (new) for 2018:
1. Munro’s Books
2. Bolen Books
3. Russell Books
BOC Top 3 Bookstores (used) for 2018:
1. Russell Books
2. Good Things Consignments
3. Penelope’s Bookestop