Martha Sharpe is the owner of Flying Books, a tiny chain of tiny bookshops nestled inside four different businesses in downtown Toronto. She also recently founded the Flying Books School of Reading & Writing, is a consultant for Audible.ca, and is on the editorial board of Brick Magazine. As publisher of House of Anansi Press and editorial director of Simon & Schuster Canada, she acquired and edited the work of many acclaimed and bestselling Canadian and international authors.
At Flying Books, I sell ten choosily chosen titles at a time on shelves tucked inside four existing businesses in downtown Toronto: The Weekend Variety (1080 Queen St. W.), Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.), Northwood General (800 Bloor St. W.), and The Good Neighbour (678 Bloor St. W.).
When I first opened, I realized half the fun of choosily choosing is talking with people about what books to sell. And since the best writers I know are always reading, I figured I would ask them to recommend five to ten of their current favourites to stock our shelves.
I’ve gotten way more out of this idea than expected. For example, I never would have guessed Iain Reid, author of the intense psychological thriller I’m Thinking of Ending Things, would have picked Julia Child’s My Life in France — nor that it would sell out instantly. Same with one of Sarah Bakewell’s picks, What I Don’t Know About Animals, by Jenny Diski.
When Diski’s book was in the front window at The Weekend Variety, a writer visiting from the UK was walking by, noticed it, and swung open the door:
“Diski just died!”
“I just this second heard,” I said.
“But how did you know to have this book?”
“Sarah Bakewell chose it,” I said. And this made sense. He told me what Diski’s writing meant to him.
Books foster connections, community, and, on that day, comfort.
And it’s always the picks that make me think, “Really?” and then, “Okay, if you say so,” that sell the fastest. Great writers really know what they’re doing, and also what other great writers are doing. Meanwhile, I try to keep up.
Guest choosers to date have included Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts; Carl Wilson, author of Let’s Talk About Love; Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante’s translator; Mark Greif, author of Against Everything; Michael Helm, author of After James; Amy Stuart, author of Still Mine; Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be? and the upcoming Motherhood; Misha Glouberman, co-author with Heti of The Chairs Are Where the People Go; Lynn Crosbie, author of Where Did You Sleep Last Night and The Corpses of the Future; and, as mentioned, Iain Reid and Sarah Bakewell.
If you’d like to hear more from Martha Sharpe and the Retailers Bridging the Digital Divide panel, register for Tech Forum, March 23, 2018 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for our mailing list to get all of the conference updates.