Steven Temple Books (489 Queen Street West, second floor) specializes in scarce and rare titles and Canadian literature, but the rarest item on offer may be the bookstore itself. Operating for more than thirty-two years in Toronto, bookseller Steven Temple has seen the independent used book trade around him burgeon and then almost disappear. Once one of a dozen used bookshops along Queen Street West, Temple says, "I'm the only one left" and adds, "I suggest people come see a bookstore while they still can."
Steven Temple Books is the archetypal antiquarian bookstore. Floor-to-ceiling shelves of rare volumes frame a gorgeous bay window filtering muted sunlight onto a window seat also piled with books. You can traverse the creaky floorboards for hours, following a librarian's labyrinth of editions, all the while breathing in a rich vapour of leather, oil, dust, and old paper. It's a book addict's space, and it's nearly impossible to visit without buying at least one book you've never heard of before but suddenly cannot live without. Like The Natural History of the Toronto Region ($40), a rare 1913 first edition (complete with maps) describing Toronto's geology and its flora and fauna. Or a profusely illustrated 1930s first edition copy of Toronto: An Illustrated Tour through its Highways and Byways (ed. Rodnewy Bowden-Smart and Frank J. Beech; about $75). Or James Edmund Jones' intriguing Pioneer Crimes and Punishments in Toronto and the Home District (1924; about $20). Or O Toronto (1973), a collection of artist William Kurelek's beautiful contemporary paintings of Toronto (about $15). Or, if your book budget is much larger than mine, for about $950 you can bring home a scarce and sought-after 1877 copy of James Timperlake's Illustrated Toronto: Past and Present, a richly illustrated volume including numerous plates and lithographs showing Toronto's factories, schools, residences, businesses, and other noted buildings of the era.
With regret I left these books behind, because I had just spent the week's grocery budget on two rare Toronto novels: Annie Savigny's A Romance of Toronto (1888; reprinted 1973), and Anna Durie's John Dangerfield's Strange Reappearance (1933), and a beautiful first edition copy of Gwendolyn MacEwen's Noman (the Toronto poet's first book of stories set in Toronto and published by Oberon in 1972). But don't worry: there are still plenty of important Toronto titles left, including a rare first edition of Morley Callaghan's Strange Fugitive (1928), described as "Canada's first urban novel." and two copies of Callaghan's The Varsity Story (1948; a novel set at the University of Toronto), plus rare copies of Toronto works by Hugh Garner, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Russell Smith, Raymond Souster, and many other novelists, poets, and storytellers who've made Toronto a fixture in their work.
Steven Temple Books specializes in anitiquarian, rare and scarce titles, Canadian literature and Canadiana, and also stocks rare and beautiful works on the world's regions, military, aviation and nautical history and interest, travel and exploration, science and medicine, children's books, modern literature, and a variety of other categories. Readers and collectors of genre fiction will be happy to discover that Steven Temple Books also specializes in rare first, limited edition and signed copies of science fiction / fantasy as well as fine volumes of crime and suspense literature.
You can visit Steven Temple Books in person Monday to Friday from noon until six o'clock, and it's very much worth the visit. The store is located on the second floor at 489 Queen Street, on the south side about a block west of Spadina. You can also browse and order online through the store's website.
[This post originally appeared at Reading Toronto. Bookstore Reviews is an occasional series.]