Best of: Bookstores in Montreal and beyond
I spend too much time inside bookstores, so you may as well hear my thoughts
Although I don’t read nearly as much as I would like to, I adore spending time (and money) in bookstores.
The best ones make you feel like you’re entering a different dimension. Some radiate that very distinct old bookstore smell we’re all familiar with, with parchment dust on every spine; others ooze modernity and have that equally distinct new book scent. Regardless of your preference, you can definitely find your new favourite haunt in one of the following: Coop BERRI-UQAM, Concordia’s co-op Bookstore, The Monkey’s Paw, Librairie N’était-ce pas l’été. So, make yourself a cup of hot tea and prepare yourself to go bookstore hopping.
Coop BERRI-UQAM: 6.5/10
Located inside the Berri-UQAM metro, it’s the perfect reading break between the Gay Village and the underground city. While it’s easy to forget you’re inside a metro, the shop doesn’t quite feel like a bookstore. Very modern, bright signs and unchipped painted walls could charm some readers. However, if you prefer old worn down bookstores that smell of ancient paper, this isn’t the reality escape you’re looking for.
Concordia’s co-op Bookstore: 8/10
Located in a really old Concordia annex downtown, this store is sadly not wheelchair accessible—a fact the managers regret but cannot change due to Concordia not being able to provide them a different locale. Free pins and books are on display around the entrance, and when you enter, the first thing you see is an array of new volumes and flashy stationery. I like how the shop is clearly split in half, with the front featuring new items and the back held in reserve for cheap second-hand books. The far side is organized by price and there are genuine piles of books everywhere. If you’re looking for something in particular, you will likely not find it, but if you just want to browse casually, you could spend hours going through the old frail books. Staff is very friendly, so the second time I visited, I decided to interview the person who was working that day, and I got all the information I needed for an article and more.
Librairie N’était-ce pas l’été: 9/10
This extremely welcoming local bookstore opened its doors in 2020 near the Beaubien metro in the heart of Little Italy. The fact that I had very good pizza from a hole-in-the-wall right before visiting this one may or may not have had an influence on my rating. Nonetheless, the deciding factor was the fact that I left the bookstore with a pitch, two interviews lined up and a really exciting anthology of classic poems that were illustrated by a Concordia alumnus. You can read the article I wrote thanks to this bookstore here.
The Monkey’s Paw: 11/10
The little bell rings behind me as the door closes and I immediately know this is my new favourite bookstore. Sadly, it’s in downtown Toronto. The smell of old books surrounds us, and I’m immediately drawn to the poetry section. I distance myself from my friend group and notice bookworms reading from the shelves as the bookstore owner chats with someone at the cash. When we leave, the cashier gives us each a postcard for free, which I still have pinned to my wall. Little did I know this bookstore is a world famous tourist destination; an unexpected status given its conserved obscure library atmosphere.
Coop BERRI-UQAM: 6/10
It’s affordable, and there’s a membership option, which comes with discounts on all books. I only got one thing: the illustrated version of Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Beaudelaire for 15.50$ plus tax.
Concordia’s co-op Bookstore: 6/10
The new items are pretty expensive and the stationary is very overpriced, but the used books are a steal. This co-op also has a membership option, which only applies to new books. The second-hand book I got, a very very old book entitled English Literature for University and Departmental Examinations dated 1887, was 83 cents and contains James Thomson’s poem “Seasons” and Robert Southey's novel Life of Nelson. It’s falling apart as I’m writing this, but this is some unmatched content for the price:
Librairie N’était-ce pas l’été: 5/10
I won’t lie, everything is a little pricey, but this is a self-starter that sells new books, so they don’t have the luxury of being able to lower prices. I would say that, keeping this in mind, prices are pretty fair.
The Monkey’s Paw: 6/10
Overall, it’s somewhat affordable, but some books were pretty pricey. The first one I picked out, The Book of Folly by Anne Section, was 35$ and fairly used. To be fair, it was the first printing of the book, so it was worth it. Other books were less expensive, such as the 4$ randomized book from a vending machine—yes, the only vending machine for used books in the world.
Coop BERRI-UQAM: 3/10
Though it has a multitude of genres, the Coop only supplies French books. There’s decent First Nations and Black representation, but their Quebec and Canadian literature section is still overwhelmingly white. Sadly, this is a case for many bookstores. It’s equally disappointing that in Quebec, anglophone Quebecois writers tend to be very underrepresented—if represented at all. Also disappointing at the Coop is the foreign literature section, as it’s mostly books translated from English to French.
Concordia’s co-op Bookstore: 9/10
There are a lot of different sections such as an LGBTQ+ section with decent BIPOC representation; a graphic novels section containing graphic biographies, several anti-capitalist books, and the renowned MAUS series, among several others; a colourful poetry department; as well as a fiction aisle I didn’t pay much attention to. I had to leave a section for you to discover! The used books wing was even more diverse, with many obscure books.
Librairie N’était-ce pas l’été: 5/10 for the effort!
The bookstore is very small, so there isn’t a whole lot to choose from, but there are shelves dedicated to First Nation literature and to Italian books. Sadly, they no longer sell titles in English, although they had at least one the first time I visited.
The Monkey’s Paw: 10/10
According to their website, they avoid books published past 1980 because they’ve built their reputation around old and rare books. Of course, this limits what they can sell, but it amplifies the immersive antique library experience visitors get when they browse the dusty shelves. I truly cannot stress how much I love this place.
Coop BERRI-UQAM: 5/10
I would only recommend it if you like French literature. I mean, then again, it is UQAM’s co-op, so I guess you could say Concordia’s co-op is limited for only having English books. Am I biased against French literature? Just don’t tell Legault.
Concordia’s co-op Bookstore: 8/10
The notebooks are unreasonably priced, but everything else is superior to Concordia’s Follett-owned bookstore. They also sell certain textbooks at a lower price, so if you’re a professor and you’re reading this, be sure to order your textbooks through this cheaper textbook provider!
Librairie N’était-ce pas l’été: 7/10
The owner of the bookstore was very enthusiastic about the book I selected and immediately agreed to put me in touch with the author, Julian Peters, who is a local to the neighbourhood. The reason I chose this book is that when I opened it, I landed on the poem that got me into poetry and the illustrations were mind blowing.
The Monkey’s Paw: 11/10
This is my absolute favourite bookstore in Canada. No further comments, your honour.
And that concludes my first bookstore review. Please contact me if you have any recommendations and I might include it in my next review! My contact information is in my byline ↓