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Text/Book: The Horizon of Discovery
A visit to Paper Books

A sample from Paper Books’ collection

Text/Book, the Toronto Standard‘s books column, is written by Emily M. Keeler and Chris Randle, plus occasional guests.

When I went to Paper Books last Friday I didn’t know what to expect. After walking down the stairs to the new shop I entered a long lamp-lit room, with chairs and tables strewn about. There were bottles of wine and water and empty shelves. Jason Rovito was sitting at a desk way in the back, his face obscured behind an iMac which was itself partially hidden by a record player. The two artifacts of period technology seemed to fit well together, their anachronistic juxtaposition soothing rather than jarring; here was a place where the past sits intimately close to the present.

The shop, having just changed its address and name–it was formerly Of Swallows, near College and Spadina–was still a little naked-looking. Rovito looked at the boxes of books piled high in every corner with the countenance of a man facing down a Heruclean task. Part of the appeal of the shop’s new name is its evocation of of the weightiness of paper, and indeed the Indiegogo campaign that helped finance the move describes its wares in terms of their papery weight. “History can only be transmitted through paper,” Rovito told me, and I can’t help but agree with the poetry of the sentiment.

Just as we were settling into our conversation, another visitor descended into the cool, dry basement shop. “Well I’m happy you’re still alive!” cheered Corinn Gerber, Art Metropole‘s director. Having recently moved Art Met from its former King St. West location, where it had been for 25 years, to Dundas St. West, the artist-run gallery, publisher, and bookshop practically became neighbours with Paper Books. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we talked at length about rent and real estate. Gerber, for the most part, was overjoyed with Art Met’s new location: “Just to be on the ground floor, on the street, it’s great! Here, people live. So many people are coming from around the corner.” Rovito, perhaps a little shell-shocked from the labour of the move, said that “rent messes people up.” Which is a painful truth if ever I heard one.

The good news is that thanks in part to cheaper rent, Paper Books can reduce their shop hours and spend more time planning special events, workshops, screenings, conferences and salons. Last weekend Rovito hosted a screening of Facs of Life, a film essay modeled on Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of experience and knowledge as a series of plateaus; it incorporates rare footage of Deleuze’s lectures at Vincennes. And there’s more programing in the works. “A bookshop is good for that. The one thing I don’t want to do is get stuck behind a desk,” Rovito said. “I’m interested in materials that could be otherwise. What’s possible for a book shop at this point?”

Rovito’s interest in experimentation and exploration seems central to the digital work that Paper Books is doing, in all of its hypothetical permutations. You can subscribe to the shop like you would a journal or a magazine, and in return you’ll receive some compelling benefits; a monthly document detailing titles available in the store, reworked scans of the papery ephemera that Rovito acquires. Best of all you’ll get to see the process of discovery, and ride along with Paper Books’s exploration of the relationship between old and new media. Through his fascination with paper, Rovito has found himself in a digital playground. He describes his experiments in scanning old work with a measured amount of glee: “I’m finding that when you scan an image, for example, it becomes a series of images depending on which parts you frame; you make something new. Scanning paper allows history to diffuse. Or the image of history. The horizon of discovery changes.” And  to think, that’s just one possible shape for this bookshop to take. Now we wait on Paper to hand us even more.

Paper Books opens to the public on June 29th. In the meantime, you can avail yourself of a sneak peek at the projects going on there by visiting their website.


Emily Keeler lives in Toronto, Tumblrs for The Millions, and edits book stuff at The New Inquiry. Follow her on Twitter at @emilymkeeler if you please.

For more, follow us on Twitter at @torontostandard, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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