Profile: READ Books

This is the second in a series profiling some of Vancouver’s best independent bookstores and the book sellers who keep them up and running. Read about The Paper Hound here.

Photo by Keagan Perlette

Photo by Keagan Perlette

READ Books used to be the office for the Charles H. Scott Gallery at the entrance of Emily Carr University, but, at the hands of Kathy Slade, has become a space packed wall to wall with artist’s books, art theory, and a little bit of poetry. Slade opened the store in 1999, an effort that was a culmination of her passion for both visual art and literature. After hosting a residency at READ for Matthew Stadler and Patricia No of Publication Studio Portland, Kathy partnered with Kay Higgins to begin Publication Studio Vancouver which is still running out of 222 East Georgia. Slade also began the Emily Carr University Press in 2006, and will be celebrating the publisher’s tenth birthday this coming fall.

The definition of “artist book” is wide ranging, but what typically makes an artist book different from any other is that the physical object, the book itself, is the artwork. READ stocks artist books made by local creators as well as international titles. You can pick up a chapbook from your favourite Vancouver collective or a beautifully bound edition that Slade has sourced from the Frankfurt Art Book Fair. Slade’s life is dedicated to artist’s books, and READ is her outlet of knowledge. As she says, “books make friends,” and READ is open to bring collectors and artists together.

SAD Mag: Why did you decide to open a bookstore?

Kathy Slade: I worked at Artspeak right after I graduated and we were trying to start a little book thing, which they have now. It’s little but it’s very good. The Charles H. Scott Gallery had a little book shelf and a big table at the entrance and the table was always empty. It was meant to have Charles H. Scott Gallery publications on it. Cate Rimmer, who is the founding director at Artspeak and the director of the Charles H. Scott, asked me to start the bookstore here. She was a curator there and they’d been wanting to start a bookstore because they felt like the university should have a bookstore. But we didn’t want to do a university bookstore, so we started an artist’s bookstore. I went around and got all the local publications from all the artist-run centers because there was nowhere in the city where you could see them all together.

Stacks on stacks: Artist's Books at READ Books. Photo by Keagan Perlette.

Stacks on stacks: Artist's Books at READ Books. Photo by Keagan Perlette.

SM: What is your vision for READ Books?

KS: We’re really interested in the social life of the book and what that means. We support the students and the teachers but any artist you can name is shopping in READ so it’s kind of a nice spot for people to come and hang out, you never know who you’re going to meet there. It’s a curated collection of books about contemporary art, about what’s happening right now and sometimes there’ll be a little bit of history but only if it’s relevant to what artists are doing right now. And it’s also interesting because we’ll have people come from Los Angeles or New York or even London and they’ll buy stacks and I’m like “What are you guys doing! You’re from London, you’ve got way better bookstores then we’ll ever be!” and they’re like, “Yeah but they’re all sold out there!” People come [to READ] and they find gems there and often things are out of print or they’re really expensive—but rarely do we ever put the price up because we think “this is a book and this is what it costs.” It’s for artists in the city. Artists are our main target. We’re here for all artists—whether you’re a student artist or a famous artist, we’re here for you.

SM: How do you curate the books you want to sell at the bookstore?

KS: I source books from different places. I go to book fairs like the New York Art/Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair and it was through people that I met through Frankfurt. I met publishers because I was buying their books. It was really influential for me to see all the beautiful European books and for the most part it’s industry only. You can sit down with someone and very often they’ll make you a coffee: there’s sort of this ceremony around it. They’ll show you all the new books and there’s a nice chance to have real conversations with the publishers and before I knew it I was cooking up plans to co-publish with them.

There’s a lot of different possibilities. I have to try and balance needing to choose things that are gonna sell and also a need to be experimental at the same time. I’ll buy a book by an artist I’ve never heard of, or something I’ve never seen before and that’s really exciting. I try to keep in touch with what’s going on in the school like what kinds of courses are being taught, what artists are being talked about, then look at those names.

I try to avoid things that I’ve seen a hundred times before. Sometimes I just do it on a whim: whatever kind of grabs me. Sometimes I can just look at a book and go “Something is really happening here.” I teach a course in artist publishing here [at Emily Carr] and there’s always one or two students in the class who are amazing and so I latch on to them and I’m like, “what do you like, what’s going on?”

Books on our "to read" list. Photo by Keagan Perlette.

Books on our "to read" list. Photo by Keagan Perlette.

READ Book Recommends

Intro to Art Books
The Book on Artists Books Arnaud Desjardin
Can you Hear Me?: Music Labels by Visual Artists by Francesco Spampinato
Fallow Germaine Koh, Cate Rimmer & Lisa Robertson

Fresh Poetry
Magenta Soul Whip Lisa Robertson
Virtualis: Topologies of the Unreal by David Dowker and Christine Stewart