Best of London: Used Bookstores

Books. How lo-fi. Analogue. 20th century. We're referring to bound paper and print of course.

These days, eReaders boast the thickness of a pancake, don't strain your eyes and let you keep more titles than you can ever hope to read in your lifetime.

In Canada, print book sales still trump that of ebooks so the jury is out on whether the ebook will kill print publications altogether.

Indeed, Project Gutenberg has been digitising thousands of titles since the 1970s and yet we rush out to bag a reissued Anna Karenina as soon as we see Keira Knightley pouting in the film adaptation of Tolstoy's epic of infidelity.

We are still seduced by artful covers and the feel of crisp coated fibre as we leaf through a new release. Or maybe it's the joy we get out of browsing and stumbling upon something we didn't set out to buy. If we must support such consumption habits that we can't seem to cast away then best to do so cheaply. London's bountiful stock of used books shelved in its many used bookstores make for a veritable bargain, and then some.

Here are a few of our favourites:

City Lights Book Shop

A city fixture since 1975, City Lights came under its current owners, Jim Capel and Teresa Tarasewicz in the 1990s. Many will be charmed by its rock and roll aesthetic. Its walls are adorned with retro posters and Warholian prints. Geeks are not excluded-there's also a life-size cut-out of Captain Kirk in the back to indicate its substantial stock of sci-fi novels. Although the store carries a diverse range of books its large philosophy and science section does stand out. As does its collection of vinyls housed in the upper level.

"This store has always meant a lot to people. At best it's a cultural warehouse," says manager Tyler Smith when asked what keeps people coming back.

"We're eccentric and we don't take ourselves too seriously." With its facebook about page describing the store as a "living collage crossed with a circus frightened by a Dadaist" he can't be joking.

Address: 356 Richmond St
Hours: Mon-Wed & Fri 11am to 6pm; Thurs 11am to 7pm; Sun 12pm to 5pm
Check out: Philosophy section, record collections
Odd find: 1979-1984 Fisher-Price turntable (plays real records)

Attic Books

Its current address on Dundas is the fourth location for Attic Books since it began trading in antique and used books in 1976. As one of the largest sellers of used and antiquarian books in Canada it has an entire floor dedicated to well preserved old books, maps, and prints. We came across some attractive illustrations of domestic fowl and barn animals which turned out to be litographs or etchings extracted from damaged century-old books. They go from an affordable $30 to the pricier $4,000 range.

According to store manager and buyer, Cassandra MacVicar, Attic's oldest book is a 1493 German publication of The Nuremberg which is going for $145,000.

For readers looking for something easier to digest, they can expect to find popular paperbacks at half the US cover price and hardcover fiction at between $7.50 and $25. New titles displayed on Fridays make this a good day to visit.

Address: 240 Dundas St
Hours: Monday - Saturday 9am to 6pm; Friday 9am to 8pm; Sunday 1pm to 6pm
Check out: The history of the building of which its staff is happy to share; the ghost of George R Reid purportedly living in the basement

PT Campbell book dealer

It's impossible not to skip PT Campbell when shopping for books downtown in spite of its modest and unassuming storefront. Located a few feet away from the intersection of Dundas and Richmond, its location is hard to beat. The store carries a sizeable volume of history, politics, biography and antique books.

Owner Paul Campbell got into the buy-sell-trade book business out of his lifelong love for books - he read every book in the library as a kid growing up in. He spent a good four years on market research before setting up his own shop. This Oct 29 PT Campbell will celebrate its ninth year in business and will be slashing prices by 90%. Anniversaries are always discount days and they get progressively higher each year. One wonders if books will go for 100% off on its 10th. If you miss the 29th there's always its annual price slash from Dec 27 'til the year is out.

Address: 388 Richmond Street
Hours: Monday - Saturday 10am to 6pm; Sunday Closed
Check out: Year-end discounts

Goodwill store

The first reason why you should go to the Goodwill Bookstore is because its books are dirt cheap: typically $1 to $5 for a bestseller. The other reason why you should go to the Goodwill Bookstore is by so doing your dollars go toward helping the unemployed find work. In fact, this reminder is plastered in large type across its walls. "You read. Community gains."

Great care is taken to make browsing comfortable, and the books easily accessible says store manager Mary Beechie.

Its children's section offers unbeatable bargains because of an over supply.
"We get so many that we can afford to put only the best and 99% are priced at a dollar," Beechie says.

Address: 1044 Adelaide St
Hours: Monday to Friday - 9am to 8 pm; Saturday - 9am to 6pm; Sunday - 10am to 5pm
Connect: facebook: The Goodwill Bookstore
Check out: Children's books; half-price sales on Feb, June, and Oct

Basically Books

Paul Catto was a loyal customer of Basically Books until its owner put the business up for sale 13 years ago. Laid off from a factory job he took the plunge and became the owner of a book shop he'd frequented as a boy.

This is one store that's feeling the pressure from digital publishing and Catto speaks frankly about it.
"We really rocked for the first 10 years but the last three years have been pretty bad."

To those familiar, this is the place to go to for science-fiction. The store has a large section dedicated to sci-fi and it's worth a visit if you're looking to fill a hole in your Terry Pratchett collection. Catto himself is a big sci-fi fan who'll share your enthusiasm.

Books here are also priced lower than stores downtown. You could acquire a modern classic such as Ayn Rand's Fountainhead or a graphic rendition of Kafka's Metamorphosis for under $7.

If not for the books, customers delightfully return just to pet little Cosmo, the store's de-facto mascot who unfortunately, wasn't in when we visited.

Address: 1099 Wonderland Rd South
Hours: Monday - Wednesday 9pm to 6pm; Thursday 9pm to 6:30pm; Friday 9pm to 7pm; Saturday 9pm - 5pm; Sunday Closed
Connect: 519 649 0997

Book Addict

Britta Homm started peddling used books independently in 1977 after working for many years as a used book store assistant in Ottawa. The Book Addict began as a stall at a local flea market and then graduated to its current location on Springbank Drive. Homm has a special interest in children's books and literature, and by her own admission, "just can't shut up about books."

It doesn't take much to strike up a long conversation about books and writers with Homm. She waxes lyrical on veteran British author, Jane Gardam:

"I'm completely amazed by Old Filth. It's about a man born in Malaya way back and he's now a retired judge and he's looking back on his life as a Raj orphan. It's the way she writes... she reminds me of Penelope Fitzgerald..."

She's aso currently recommending Zadie Smith's NW; and books by Canadian mystery writer, Louise Penny.

Paperbacks are usually priced at half the US or Canadian retail price and hardcovers range from $5 to $10.

Address: 390 Springbank Drive
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10am to 6pm; Sunday 12pm to 5pm; Monday closed
Connect: 519 474 0211