In Conversation With Octopus Books: The Role of Social-Justice-Focused Businesses
Octopus Books is a woman-owned bookstore in the Glebe, Ottawa. They were developed to “teach people about poverty and injustice; to promote community education, discussion and debate of social issues relevant to Canadian society; and to promote and encourage discussion and debate of issues which affect women, children and the family.”
Why are these topics important for Ottawans to learn about through reading?
Reading provides insights into the experiences of others. Our selection is reflective of our community and gives our customers access to other people's stories, challenges and circumstances. We believe understanding people is how we move toward a more just society.
How do you curate the collection of books available for purchase? What factors do you consider when determining which books to display?
We deliberately look for books that reflect a variety of voices, particularly those that are marginalized. We like to support Canadian publishers and authors, and we are keen to offer opportunities for our customers to discover stories through our curation and displays that aren't often heard in the mainstream. It is important to us that when a customer walks into our store, they can see themselves reflected in the books we carry.
What barriers have you experienced as a leftist, woman-owned bookstore?
Initially, Octopus had a reputation as a communist bookstore, so some folks didn't think we would have things that would interest them. However, thanks to the ties we've built over the years with progressive organizations in Ottawa, our schools and the community as a whole, their support has aided us in growing and remaining a force in Ottawa. We have discovered that people, schools and organizations have actually gone out of their way to support us because we are woman-owned and leftist.
What is the role of social-justice-focused businesses in working to dismantle oppressive systems?
Beyond just offering information about oppressive systems and how their structures allow inequities to continue, we also make a point to support organizations that do the kind of work we believe in. We offer discounts on book sales to support our school libraries and classrooms, and we regularly offer free events to our community that promote democratic participation and the exchange of ideas.
Thank you to Mackenzie from Octopus Books for the collaboration! Be sure to check out Octopus Books at 116 Third Avenue, Ottawa. Follow them on Instagram @octopusbooks to keep up with new stock, events, and mutual aid opportunities!