The magic of a book does not end at its outermost cover, but being a book lover yourself, perhaps you already know this. The magic of a book encompasses its spaces, its readers, its microbes, its forests, its laborers – the extended community and work around a book. Iron Dog Books, 2671 East Hastings, Vancouver BC, Canada When I enter a bookstore, I don’t always plan on buying a book, yet there is often a feeling that there is a perfect book waiting for me somewhere inside. A book positioned by the universe to match whatever thoughts, feelings, hopes, aesthetics and issues are in my life at the time. When I’m inside, I run my fingers across the texture of the book paper, over the ink, the names and the binding. I am met with the energetic traces of thinking, desire, decisions and labor embedded within the printed matter. Last July, I returned to the city of Vancouver after many years. On this visit I went to several bookstores. Like cities and people, I think each bookstore has a unique personality and spice. Among my favorites in Vancouver are: Iron dog books (est.2017), an Indigenous-owned bookshop and booktruck dedicated to bringing great books to Səl̓ilwətaɁɬ, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territories. Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium (est.1983), a legendary LGBTQ+2A bookstore and sex shop. Spartacus books (est.1973) a non-profit, volunteer and collectively run anarchist bookstore and resource center. In the interview The Book as an Art Practice: A Conversation with Hikari Nishida published in 2022 by NO-NIIN, Hikari says: “At a time when most artists and independent publishers post on social media about their books and you can DM them directly if you want to buy anything, I think a place that is a physical hub has a special value.” Independent bookstores can be welcoming places of refuge, history, knowledge, exchange, solidarity and dust. There are few physical places more sacred to me than bookstores. Bookstores contain the collective knowledge and work of my idols (dead or alive). Like religious practice and forms of communion, I see bookstores as spaces for meeting with a wider spiritual body of allies. “Having a storefront was essential to rooting ourselves in a time and place and being responsible to our community.” – Hilary Atleo, Iron Dog Books Iron Dog Books, 2671 East Hastings, Vancouver BC, Canada Spartacus Books, 1983 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, Canada Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, 1238 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, Canada Little Sister’s welcomes me with their amazing curation of queer titles right next to an abundance of sex toys and kink products. Navigating the space leaves me touched, in awe and thinking about sexual liberation, queerness and trans joy. Little Sister’s is also a fighter. In 1990 the store filed a claim against the federal government of Canada for the systemic targeting of their imports by customs officers. This led to a Supreme Court decision on freedom of expression and equality rights, and stripped customs officers with the power to confiscate imports they personally deem “obscene”. I meet Iron Dog Books on a sunny afternoon on a busy street. Several customers are casually checking out their shelves and the owner mentions with a smile that the day is unexpectedly busy for a tuesday. Previously-used books mixed with new books in a symbiotic way. The store has a structure where you can sell back previously used books. The forefronting of extensive work from indigenous authors and artists is most impressive – an example of a re-centering that is urgently needed. Spartacus Books gives a sense of having weathered storms, stable and sure in its own way. The store embodies the ideology and spirit of their anarchy. A comfortable staff area with coffee and a vintage computer. Posters advertising times and locations of upcoming protests. I look through my potential purchases in a roughed up armchair next to shelves of free household items and racks of black and white xeroxed zines and pamphlets. Spartacus Books, 1983 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, Canada Spartacus Books, 1983 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, Canada Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, 1238 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, Canada Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, 1238 Davie Street, Vancouver BC, Canada Publishing, Design, Futures In Literary Fragments, a panel talk last fall in Malmö with the BIPOC mobile bookstore (un)told pages, former queerbookstore owner Bitte Andersson, graphic designer Sara Kaaman and the curators Tawanda Appiah and Jari Malta, the panelists reflected on the importance of using publishing, independent libraries and spaces as ways to strengthen communities and be active in political movements and moments. “I’m a firm believer that you absolutely should judge a book by its cover, because graphic designers are very smart people and they are actively trying to make sure that the right person is attracted to the book.” – Hilary Atleo, Iron Dog Books Spartacus Books, 1983 Commercial Drive, Vancouver BC, Canada My work is rooted in feminist print design and activist publishing. Through my projects I’m often looking for suitable distributors and follow the work of feminist and queer bookstores around the world. As a designer and organizer, I’m in touch with these essential actors in the circulation and production of books as well as with the structural pillars of printed matter: namely print houses, paper mills and the post. Today, when hearing stories of feminist bookstores or magazines closing after many years, printers shutting doors, paper suppliers cutting back on stock variety, rent and postage prices skyrocketing, governments cutting cultural funding, the structural pillars of my work feel fragile, a kind of instability impacting the industry and people I care for. “[t]he last two years have seen a significant increase in the sorts of books I always want to see more of, stories of joy from historically excluded perspectives, but the work is far from over.” – Hilary Atleo, Iron Dog Books Within the waves and fluctuations of feminist work, there are always multiple forces at play. This brings me hope. At the moment, i’m deeply inspired by the work of co-organized printing and publishing initiatives, independent libraries and collective projects, local and abroad, such as queer.archive.work, Co-consipirator Press, Queer Reads Library, Temporary Bookshelf, Camp Books, Fort London, Hopscotch Reading Room and Obra Press to name a few. Books are important. So important that they deserve their own spaces on the streets and in the physical realm. Supporting books also means supporting bookstores. The magic of a book does not end at its outermost cover. Interview with Hilary Atleo of Iron Dog Books Hilary Atleo is the co-owner of Iron Dog Books, an Indigenous-owned bookshop and booktruck dedicated to bringing great books to Səl̓ilwətaɁɬ, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm territories. Our interview was conducted over email in July 2022. ROBY: Why did you start a bookstore? In what ways is physical space important to the community you want to reach? HILARY: I’m one of two of the owners (my husband Cliff is the other) and I’ve worked in books for several years now, since 2010. At its most basic the drive to open a bookshop stemmed from a frustration at the things that I felt were missing in the industry, or that were de-emphasized in favour of high turnover of inventory. I wanted a shop that focused on enduring quality, on making historically excluded narratives available, and that put our relationships first. Having a storefront was essential to rooting ourselves in a time and place and being responsible to our community. R: Who works for your bookstore, and in what ways? H: We have several staff who all work varying amounts depending on their desires and abilities. My goal is to have every staff person who works for me able to provide a consistent caring level of service. I’m a big believer in making sure that the people who work for me have autonomy, agency, and can handle any basic bookstore task on their own. This gives us a level of redundancy and organizational consistency that I love. Of course there are certain specialized tasks, I handle all the billing and front list buying, two of my staff handle cashouts, one staff person handles our bi weekly restock reports, but for the most part we are one unit where each member has an equal share of the responsibility for creating the tenor of our bookstore. Iron Dog Books, 2671 East Hastings, Vancouver BC, Canada R: How do you select the books that are in your store? H: I hold each one in my hands and I ask myself ”will I still want this in two years?” That’s a bit of a silly answer but at its heart it is true – I ask myself if the book will still have value beyond its initial sale. If it has enduring quality. If it does then I put it in the bookshop. R: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your work? H: When people fall in love with our store. R: What is the most challenging part of your work? H: Managing the minutiae of a business and bookkeeping. R: What kind of relationships do you have with other bookstores, locally and/or internationally? H: I try and have very good ones! My closest friend is the owner of The Paper Hound, another bookshop in town, and she always says to me ”the rising tide lifts all ships”. I’m a big believer that if I show up in a good way every time eventually everything will work out. R: What are your thoughts (or feelings) around graphic design in relation to books and publications? I’m thinking about cover art, illustration, binding, format, etc. H: Firstly I’m a firm believer that you absolutely should judge a book by its cover, because graphic designers are very smart people and they are actively trying to make sure that the right person is attracted to the book. I see cover design as a coded language for readers, telling us what to expect. On the other hand I can not stand design choices that reduce the saleability of a book. Sometimes I look at books that come in and think ”the book is great, shame they made design choices that discourage people from buying it”. In addition I think that book size should be standardized and we should outlaw novelty shapes. Any book taller than about 10″ is too tall for comfortable reading, ditto any book wider than 10″. I genuinely don’t understand how publishers can standardize mass market paperbacks and two sizes of trade paperback but still insist on making unusual choices for other formats. What utility does a giant picture book of botanical drawing have when it doesn’t fit on any shelves and the printer costs have run so high that the book is priced out of the hands of mere mortals? How does one display a book in the shape of a potato? Why make a coil back book when most display systems require you to read the title on the spine? I understand the reasons from the perspective of a publisher or designer but as someone who hopes that ideally all books are purchased one day I really cannot recommend those sorts of choices. Finally, I dislike dust jackets. I understand their purpose but I think they no longer match a contemporary lifestyle and that paper over board is the superior choice for all hardcovers. They are more durable for shipping and reduce the waste when the end user eventually recycles the dust jacket out of sheer frustration. R: Are there any kind of publications and/or books you would like to see more of? H: The last two years have seen a significant increase in the sorts of books I always want to see more of, stories of joy from historically excluded perspectives, but the work is far from over. I wish publishing would crack open their curatorial editing jobs and upper management jobs and hire folks from BIPOC and Queer spaces. The more that publishing is led by a multiplicity of perspectives the stronger and more resilient our industry will be. Iron Dog Books, 2671 East Hastings, Vancouver BC, Canada R: What are your hopes and dreams for your bookstore’s future? H: You know if you ask any bookseller what they would do if they had more money and space they always answer that they would have more books? That’s what I hope for our future: that we live true to our core bookshop values of community, empathy, intellectual engagement, and accessibility, and that we always have the desire for more books. R: Do you have any tips or advice to anyone looking to start a bookstore? H: Get a job working in a bookstore and learn everything you can about the business from the ground up. Assume folks working in the industry have knowledge and be willing to ask questions and build relationships. Approach your projects with humility and empathy, and finally, figure out the line where you would rather fail than compromise and live true to that line. Read more about Iron Dog Books and its history at irondogbooks.com Roby Redgrave McPherson https://www.robynn.xyz/ Roby Redgrave McPherson is a Helsinki/Stockholm-based visual communication designer and teacher. They work to develop visual communication design to better serve social and ecological justice movements and are invested in publishing as a tool for radical collective liberation and trans survival. They currently work as the art director of Tidskriften Astra (est.1918) and as the graphic designer of Almanac Journal of Trans Poetics (est. 2021).