Iron Dog Books: Vancouver’s Favourite Bookmobile

Iron Dog Books is a mobile bookseller dedicated to bringing low cost reading to Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories (metro Vancouver). They sell both used and new books, based out of UniverCity at SFU on top of Burnaby Mountain and at other locations around the lower mainland.

The Vancouver Writers Fest is thrilled to welcome back for a second year this fabulous bookmobile to the Festival this October (stay tuned for dates and times). We chatted with co-owner Hilary Atleo about this amazing venture.

Tell us about Iron Dog Books—what’s the philosophy behind the store?

Iron Dog Books is metro Vancouver’s only bookshop on wheels. We think bookshops are fundamentally place-making and an important and necessary facet of the urban landscape. In Vancouver bookshops and other creative industries are under threat due to the high price of leases. Operating a mobile shop allows us to serve many different areas of the city and be creative with our model. Our small size also
allows us to present a diverse, highly curated inventory of titles to
our readers, ensuring a unique selection.

Can you tell us a little about how you curate your collection?

The truck is so small that every book in the store needs to bring something special to the inventory. I have a philosophy that all the books I stock have to have ‘enduring quality’ – that means I try and look at each title and ask myself if I would still want the book in the store in two years. In addition, I look for titles that are exemplars of the genre, and books that draw on an uncommon narrative.

Finally, I make an effort to purchase books that I think capture some
element of imagination or whimsy. For example, on of our best selling
non-fiction books this summer was Paul Bogard’s The End of Night,
which came out in 2013 but which still draws my attention with its
commentary on human development, light pollution, and the search for
the magic of the night sky.

As a bookstore on wheels, Iron Dog Books is a very different experience to a traditional retail space! Tell us about the atmosphere of the store, and what you hope visitors take from it.

We tried to create a sense of magic by leaving the exterior of the
store as overtly ‘truck-like’ as possible and renovating the interior
of the store to be a heightened version of a traditional bookshop. I
hope our customers feel like they step into another world when they
visit the truck – like they step into a story itself, a doorway into
the books on the shelves.

What are you currently reading?

I always have two or three books on the go! I just started Cherie
Dimiline’s Empire of Wild and I’m reading Elizabeth Kostova’s The
Historian. I like to read cookbooks and I just added Jennifer
McLagan’s Bitter to my collection. My kids and I read a lot of YA
novels together and we just finished The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.

What do you enjoy about the Writers Fest?

I think storytelling is an essential parts of the human experience.
It is such a profound thing, to engage with someone else’s narrative,
to imagine another place, or world, or being. Writers Fest sort of pries open the door to creating those worlds – bringing creators into contact with consumers and sparking new conversations.


Lauren Dembicky