Writer in Residence

Q&A with Lorie and Robert Wright, Co-Owners of the Tamworth Book Shop

By Sandra Ridley

Coordinates: 44.4667° N, 76.9833° W

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.” Virginia Woolf


Located on Beaver Lake, Tamworth is small community a 45-minute drive northwest of Kingston. With a population of about 1,000 people, which swells in summer, this town has one of the most beautiful second hand bookstores you’ll ever come across. It has two floors of lovingly filled shelves. It’s called, simply, The Tamworth Book Shop. The store occupies an old red brick coach house on the property where the owners, Lorie and Robert Wright, live. Here’s the link to their site: http://www.tamworthbookshop.com

Lorie and Robert also host readings at their store—when the weather is sunny, outside under a shade-giving tree, and in cooler times, inside with its working wood stove. The interior is reminiscent of the opening scene of The Friendly Giant, exuding warmth and book-filled coziness. This past summer, writers who have read work there include Beth Follett, Stan Dragland, John Donlan, Jeanette Lynes, and Carolyn Smart. The next reading happens at 2pm on Sunday October 19 with Maureen Scott Harris and Stan Dragland. I highly recommend the drive out to poke about the Book Shop and its expertly curated collection. Hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from 11am to 4pm, and other times by chance or appointment.

Sandra Ridley: Can you tell us about yourselves and how your book shop came to be?

Lorie and Robert Wright: Yes this is a great quote which Lorie already knew. While reading is usually a solitary activity, other authors, like Emerson, refer to writing for “unknown friends”. There can be great, unexpected finds in used book shops. Sometimes books have a provenance that can be established through inscriptions, ownership signatures, bookplates, or from other simple detective work. We have had books that once belonged to Stephen Leacock, bp Nichol, Michael Ondaatje and Elizabeth Smart. These are important artefacts of our culture. “Shoulder rubbing” seems an appropriate term for the feeling one gets when handling such books.

Books are often “wild” and find themselves “homeless” and actually require a suitable guardian to ensure their survival. Many books were never considered appropriate for library collections, and many libraries no longer are able to afford or justify their acquisition. So these homeless books do need a roof over their head until someone decides to take them home.

We met in a used book shop, so naturally we consider them romantic places. Robert had a book shop in Toronto. Lorie was an OCA (OCAD) grad and trained as a bookbinder. In the late 1990s we moved to Tamworth and ran an internet based book business. About ten years ago we opened our second hand book shop in the coach house in our backyard. We have three children, all of who are growing up surrounded by books, booksellers, writers, publishers, artists, etc…

SR: What is your typical workday like?

Lorie and Robert Wright: Typically the book shop in Tamworth is open 15 hours per week. There is a lot of other time spent hunting down interesting books, or organizing activities like the poetry readings. Both of us have other jobs. Robert has an antiquarian book business, and is active as an appraiser of rare books and manuscripts for Canadian institutions. Lorie works as an adult literacy instructor, and makes handmade journals and notebooks.

SR: What joys and/or challenges do you find in your work?

Lorie and Robert Wright: The biggest reward is being a part of fostering literacy and passion for books. Having the book shop has connected us with the local community. Hosting poetry readings brings living writers and readers together in a meaningful way, providing a forum for the appreciation of contemporary Canadian writing.

SR: What pleasure do you find in the physical object of the book?

Lorie and Robert Wright: This is an important aspect of the book for both of us. We are both very interested in the book arts, bookbinding, design, illustration, printing, and Canadian fine press.

A formative experience for me (Robert) was finding a book by Carson McCullers entitled “Clock Without Hands”. The design of the book intrigued me: the printed paper dust jacket had a cellophane window through which the title of the book, printed in gold on the cloth cover beneath, could be read. This imaginative design led me to discover one of my favorite authors, and led me to the realization that contrary to the old adage, I often could judge a book by its cover. I am still delighted to find Clock Without Hands on my shelf, and am saddened by the prevailing attitude that books are disposable once read. Fortunately, some contemporary Canadian publishers, like Beth Follett's Pedlar Press, create books of enduring literary value and great physical beauty, and counter the current notion that books are merely disposable containers.

SR: What, for you, is the most peculiar or rare item(s) on your shelves?

Lorie and Robert Wright: That is hard to say. Our book shop is based around the idea of books for readers. While we have some very scarce material in the shop, we really want the books to be affordable to all, so we do not offer “rare” books per se. However we always have curiosities, including Canadian government pamphlets on how to build bomb shelters (from the Diefenbaker era) to books that explain old building technologies like log cabins, barns, mills and old ways like dowsing, finding wild foods and living off the land.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Sandra Ridley’s first full-length collection of poetry, Fallout, won the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award for publishing, the Alfred G. Bailey prize, and was a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award. Her second book, Post-Apothecary, was short-listed for the 2012 ReLit and Archibald Lampman Awards. Also in 2012, Ridley won the international festival Of Authors’ Battle of the Bards and was featured in The University of Toronto’s Influency Salon. Twice a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry, Ridley is the author of two chapbooks: Rest Cure, and Lift, for which she was co-recipient of the bpNichol Chapbook Award. Her latest book is The Counting House (BookThug 2013). She lives in Ottawa.