Little Ghosts Books, Toronto

Photograph of the t-shirt section inside Little Ghosts Books
Photo by Marcie McCauley

Beneath a warren of streetcar wires on Dundas Street between Little Italy and Little Portugal, nestled among other local businesses—sports bars and laundromats, convenience stores and barbers—there’s a new haunt in Toronto: Little Ghosts Books.

The window displays include VHS movies—The Nightmare on Elm Street box set—and props that create a spooky-but-not-gory vibe, but inside it’s all about the books. The bookseller behind the counter wears a T-shirt that says, “When I die, I want to haunt Little Ghosts Books,” and both walls are lined with black cases, a ladder running along a rail to reach the highest shelves. 

The main floor is dedicated to fiction; the smaller second floor (up a few steps), nonfiction, young adult, classics, and some gift items, like stickers and notecards and hoodies—which celebrate horror as well as queer culture—designs by one of the shop’s owners. (My partner has permanently adopted “my” new toque, which features a ghost reading a book.) 

A photograph of a display of Goosebumps books
Photo by Marcie McCauley

The energy of a steady flow of customers (also some dogs—perhaps inspired by the book club, Stephen King’s Cujo) sustains bookish chatter. Behind the shop is a private patio, where there’s often someone reading quietly at one of the bistro-style red metal tables, under the supervision of an oversize skeleton (my head comes to its waist). Weather permitting, there are readings and gatherings, even occasionally a craft market featuring local artisans with needful things, tailored to the store’s regular clientele. 

Whether bestsellers or debut novelists, Big Five publisher or indie-press offerings (including books from the in-house press, dedicated to queer horror writers), English-language and translated works—this is the kind of shop where people want to talk about the books both in and out of stock, out of a shared curiosity and passion. Terms like body-horror and eco-fiction are casually exchanged as recommendations, and pronouns are clarified with ease.

A photograph of a large wall of books
Photo by Marcie McCauley

There’s a marked respect for eschewing spoilers, and the sense it’s all part of a never-ending conversation. So even though horror is a single spoonful of my reader’s feast, my small stack of library loans revealed my interest in translated literature, and soon I had a stack of appealing options for purchase, some actual translations with other selections possessing similar attributes (a nuanced response characteristic of quality indie bookstores). 

And despite having announced that I sought to prioritize new-to-me writers, the discussion that erupted about David Demchuk’s writing made one of his earlier novels, inspired by the serial murders in Toronto’s gay village, sound so irresistible that I caved. (Not in an up-selling or vampiric glamor way: in a I-just-have-to-tell-you way.) 

Toronto also boasts dedicated mystery/suspense and science-fiction/fantasy shops, as well as an LGBTQ bookshop originally established in 1970. (Also, the Biblio-mat at the Monkey’s Paw bookstore, named for the 1902 horror story by W. W. Jacobs: a mechanical device that accepts a five-dollar token and offers a random, and often bizarre, vintage book in exchange.) Neighborhoods and communities are passionate and committed, and, in a city where more than half of the residents were born elsewhere, cultural diversity is rich and organic. 

Little Ghosts is a relatively recent arrival to this city’s literary retail landscape, having opened in 2022, and its high spirits will undoubtedly leave a mark. 

Marcie McCauley writes and reads in Tkaronto (Toronto) and N’Swakamok (Sudbury) on the homelands of Indigenous peoples—including the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabeg, and Wendat—land still inhabited by their descendants. Her writing has been published in American, British, and Canadian magazines and journals, in print and online.