If you were someone who spent more hours in a library than a playground after school, or are a Notting Hill fan, or just like the smell of old tomes, you’ve probably fantasized about owning a cozy bookstore someday. Samita Manhas, a resident of New West, did too.
So earlier this year, she approached Patricia Massy, owner of Vancouver-based Massy Books, with her desire to set up a book shop. Massy taught her the ropes, and together, they organized a book drive in July 2022 — raising $7,000 towards the Native Education College in Vancouver.
“I think it's a dream for a lot of people to run a bookstore. For me, the idea of curating and sharing books with different experiences, and possibilities is really exciting. I grew up in New West, and I've always wanted to have a place here where I can go to find books that are not just in the mainstream.”
And Massy Books, she said, curated such books.
“You feel seen when you walk in,” she said about the bookstore.
Manhas wanted to start a similar inclusive space in New West.
“There are over two million books published every year (around the world). But you tend to find the same authors and stories being promoted and sold in most bookstores,” she noted.
“But New West has a lot of different communities; we have people that want to read different things,” she added.
Which is why, her new bookstore Wildfires Bookshop celebrates “both historically and presently excluded voices and stories.”
The project was a long time coming though.
“I'm a pretty big reader. And I think I learned pretty early on when I was in university that the books that I was having to read in school were not what I wanted, or interested in," Manhas said. "I was often bored, and I even questioned: ‘Oh, maybe I don't like school’. But I learned quickly that it's not that, it's just the material that was being given to me wasn't what I cared about, or wanted to know about.”
So, she spent a lot of time finding books that she could relate to or wanted to learn more about — a pursuit that she knew little would one day lead her to launch her own store of books.
Going beyond the mainstream books
Among Manhas’ curated collection is Abolition. Feminism. Now. by Angela Y Davis. “It's written by a group of people that have been activist scholars and writers for a long time. And they've been challenging harmful systems on the ground. So this new book is about how abolition and feminism go hand-in-hand.”
A few others include The Boy and the Bindi written by Vivek Shraya and illustrated by Rajni Perera, which challenges “binary gender norms”, and Iron Widow, a young adult sci fi fantasy by Xiran Jay Zhao that’s “about a young girl that fights the patriarchy theory from her very core” — “If I read this as a teen, I think it would have changed my whole world,” said Manhas.
All these stories, though they exist, often get sidelined by bookstores that don't find value in them, she added.
But Manhas, who works for an alternative business school — helping people start businesses, does find value in them, and is, in fact, constantly on the lookout for such books that challenge the way we think.
“The curation process is actually the most fun part for me because I know about a lot of books — I follow a lot of book pages on social media; racialized, queer or marginalized authors; and/or people that are reading those kinds of books.”
And now, Manhas is ready to finally offer the collection to the people of New West at the pop-up event at Old Crow Cafe on Front Street from Oct. 8 to 22. There will be a mix of new and used books for people to browse through and buy. More importantly, it will be a place for readers to let Samita know “what kind of books are they not seeing in the world around them that they want to see?”
“I want this store to be kind of community built as well… I want to bring in things that people want, not just what I assume people want.”
Check out Wildfires Bookshop pop-up at Old Crow Coffee Co., 655 Front St. between Oct.8 and 22.