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An Independent Bookstore in Montreal – MAKTABA: Librairie Bookshop

For literature enthusiasts, a bookshop evokes the kind of emotion that can lift you off the ground and transport you to places familiar and unknown. They can be spaces of belonging, of safety, of deep appreciation and connection to the world. You might imagine tall, dark bookcases, a winding staircase and shelves and shelves and more shelves of the most spectacular books. You want to touch the spine, feel the paper, read the words on every page but almost like a bolt, the reality of who these spaces were historically created for becomes apparent.

The introduction of machines like the Gutenberg press with moveable type in 1450 made it possible to publish literature in larger quantities. It was considered revolutionary. However, this notion overshadows the fact that printing technology existed before these European ‘inventions’. Bi Sheng (990-1051) created the first printing technology in China with porcelain materials. Scholarly reading dates back to the Abbasid Caliphate dynasty (around 775-861 CE) in the regions close to Baghdad, who encouraged bookshops and book dealers (the original publisher agents and distributors perhaps) to flourish and prosper. Maharaja Ranjit Singh, although illiterate himself, was known as a patron of the Arts, collecting literature in Arabic, Farsi and Panjabi.

So, it makes me wonder about this idea that I was told over and over again when embarking on starting up a small press: that “your people don’t read or buy books”. Where did this idea stem from and who did this response serve?

During an impromptu summer road trip to Montreal last year, I spotted a sign for a bookstore and of course, could not resist. My son chose to join me and venture inside. It is nestled in a heritage building in the Old Port and a door opens into a space streaming with light from large windows that filled our hearts in an instant. My eyes danced into the corners as soon as we stepped in, where floor seating majlis invite you to sit and feel at home. It delighted all of my senses, from the uncluttered, wide-open entrance that offered immediate access for our young person, to the collections of vinyls and artprints.

Inside the Maktaba bookshop. 3 shelves on the wall to the left, filled with books facing out. There is a counter to the right with one of the owners standing beside it wearing a black tank top and black pants and white sneakers. A brown hardwood floor at the front.

Photograph of our visit to Maktaba ©SaffronPress

On their website, Maktaba is described as “a warm, welcoming space steeped in culture”. This is accurate. I have not felt so welcomed and in community at a bookstore in a long while. What stood out is that Maktaba amplifies voices of historically marginalized groups, especially those of Middle Eastern heritage. Independently published creators are given equitable shelf space, with their covers forward facing, not hidden away on the bottom of a shelf labelled Diverse Books or brought out once a year for a heritage month display. You will find Homeland: My Father Dreams of Palestine, by Hannah Moushabeck, What is a Refugee by Elise Gravel, The Cat Man of Aleppo and books I had not come across before, which pulled me in.

I was at home in this space and so was my son, who does not feel this comfort in any other bookshop. We felt an innate joy, a soft landing and fully supported in a community-driven, intentional space, where we browsed deeply-rooted issues and non-traditional picture book collections. And yes, we read and purchased books because this space was meant for us too.

a brown paper bag sealed with a sticker featuring the Maktaba arch logo

Our book purchase at Maktaba

Follow along for a title found at Maktaba will be featured soon!

Please visit Maktaba in person if you are able, or visit their website and support this cultural space and their curated book offerings.

Image of Navjot Kaur with thank you message for supporting a small, independent press. There is a green frame around the text with a black tag in the bottom left. Text on black tag shows website address and hashtag #WhereStoriesGrow. Small logo in gold. Navjot is wearing a white top and some of her long black hair is placed over her left shoulder.


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