You’ll soon be able to browse a selection of books from the Wildfires pop-up bookstore while you wait for your cappuccino and croissant at the Old Crow.
If you were, or are, someone who spent more hours in a library than in a playground after school notting hill Fan, or just like the smell of old tomes, you’ve probably dreamed of one day owning a cozy bookstore. So did Samita Manhas, a resident of New West.
So, earlier this year, she reached out to Patricia Massy, owner of Vancouver-based Massy Books, with her desire to open a bookstore. Massy taught her the basics and together they organized a book collection in July 2022 that raised $7,000 for Vancouver’s Native Education College.
“I think running a bookstore is a dream for a lot of people. For me, the idea of curating and sharing books with different experiences and opportunities is really exciting. Growing up in the New West, I’ve always wanted a place here to find books that aren’t just mainstream.”
And Massy Books, she said, curates such books.
“You feel seen when you walk in,” she said of the bookstore.
Manhas wanted to open a similar inclusive space in the New West.
“Over two million books are published (around the world) every year. But most bookstores advertise and sell the same authors and stories,” she noted.
“But New West has many different communities; we have people who want to read different things,” she added.
That’s why her new bookstore, Wildfires Bookshop, celebrates “both historically and currently excluded voices and stories.”
However, the project was a long time coming.
“I’m a pretty big reader. And I think I learned pretty early on, when I was in college, that the books I had to read in school weren’t what I wanted or were interested in,” Manhas said. “I was often bored and would even go, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t like school. But I quickly learned that it wasn’t, it was just the material I was given that didn’t interest me or want to know about.”
So she spent a lot of time finding books that she could relate to or that she wanted to learn more about – a pursuit she little knew would lead to one day opening her own bookstore.
Away from the mainstream books
Part of Manhas’ curated collection Abolition. Feminism. Now. by Angela Y Davis. “It was written by a group of people who have long been activist scholars and writers. And they have challenged harmful systems on the ground. So this new book is about how abolition and feminism go hand in hand.”
A few others are included The boy and the bindi written by Vivek Shraya and illustrated by Rajni Perera, which challenges “binary gender norms” and Iron Widowa young adult sci-fi fantasy by Xiran Jay Zhao about “a young girl who fights the theory of patriarchy to the core” – “If I had read this as a teenager, it would have changed my whole world”, said Manhas.
All of these stories, while they exist, are often sidelined by bookstores that find no value in them, she added.
But Manhas, who works for an alternative business school — helping people start businesses — finds value in them, and indeed is always on the lookout for books like this that challenge our mindset.
“I actually enjoy the curation process the most because I know a lot of books – I follow a lot of book pages on social media; racialized, queer, or marginalized writers; and/or people who read such books.”
And now, Manhas is ready to finally offer the collection to the people of the New West at the pop-up event at the Old Crow Cafe on Front Street October 8-22. There will be a mix of new and used books for people to browse and buy. More importantly, it will be a place for readers to let Samita know, “What kind of books don’t they see in the world around them that they want to see?”
“I want this store to be some kind of community too…I want to bring in things that people want, not just what I think people want.”
Check out the Wildfires Bookshop pop-up at Old Crow Coffee Co., 655 Front St. between October 8th and October 22nd.