Book Bike: Delivering delight and pedalling prose



The motto of the book bike is "Delivering delight, one book at a time."

Photos by Yvonne Bambrick

by Amelia Brown

What was the last book you read? No, really. Think for a moment about where you got it, whether you liked it. Who wrote it? Where is it now?

Sarah Beaudin and Madeleine Curry founded Meatlocker Editions in 2013 to breathe some new life into the reading experience. The non-profit organization micro-publishes its own titles (two so far) written by young people, but they also aim to champion reading.

Community outreach was a key component of Meat Locker Editions. To fulfill their mission to bring books out to the public they built the Book Bike ."The Book Bike really is our focal point right now. It does gets people excited to read again, excited about books — the holding of an actual object, discovering one in a park," Beaudin says.

You may have seen the Book Bike out and about during the summer months. Beaudin and Curry ride the trailer out to different parts of the city, fold out the wooden panels and fan out their display. They have an impressive collection of fiction, non-fiction, children's books, YA, even a small library of Korean books they take to Christie Pits. All of the books are free to the public, donated from publishers and book stores and eager passers-by: "We get one of two reactions," Beaudin says, "either they say 'What? I can have this? This is free?' or 'Oh, this is such a good idea! Wait here, I want to bring you all of my books!'"

Those donating their books can rest assured their contribution won't collect dust: "We have a little sticker in most of our books asking that people don’t shelve them, that when they’re done reading them to keep passing it along." Beaudin says. "But we’ve also started letting people know that if it’s a book that they really love that really speaks to them that they are allowed to keep it, we just ask that they pass on something else. We are in no shortage of books."

Their inventory now contains 116 gallons of books, enough to fill a large deck bin. This year, the Book Bike made it out almost every weekend between late May and September, hitting up Word on the Street, the Annex Street Festival and other outdoor summer events. Fans of the Book Bike can still get their fix during the winter months: the books are housed on shelves at The Central where Meat Locker hosts the Underdog Poets Academy, a monthly reading series.

As we sit beside the Book Bike in Trinity Bellwoods park in mid-October, a man passing by calls out: "A little bit cold to be selling ice cream!" Accustomed to being mistaken for popsicle vendors, Beaudin replies cheerily: "They're books!"

"Even better!" The man says. Curry adds that some people see the Meat Locker logo and are disappointed they're not selling hot dogs. "It's food for the soul." Beaudin confirms.

Dandyhorse - Meatlocker Book Bike in Bellwoods - web IMG_3208 by Yvonne Bambrick Oct16_15

Setting up the Book Bike in Trinity Bellwoods park.

The book bike was built with the help of Carlos Gaudio at Cyclopedia using found materials and a Wike trailer. Painted bright blue with a Meat Locker logo, the Book Bike set about delivering delight.

But potholes and wear on the Book Bike have taken their toll. This winter, the focus of Meat Locker editions will turn to building a newer, better Book Bike. "We’re looking for some money first, so that we can buy the materials that would be most appropriate, instead of just making do," Beaudin says. "Then it can be a stronger Book Bike and a little more roadworthy."

The plan for the future of the Book Bike is three-tier. The first goal is to build a better Book Bike, and retire the current one except for special occasions. If they are successful in gaining partnerships, they will build a second one. The third tier of the plan, the big goal, is to build five Book Bikes. "Our dream is for a fleet of them that we can distribute throughout the city so that different neighbourhoods in Toronto can have their own Book Bike."

Dandyhorse - Meatlocker Book Bike in Bellwoods - web IMG_3249 by Yvonne Bambrick Oct16_15

The Book Bike's wares are varied, with all sorts of genres stretching between fiction, non-fiction, kids books and YA.

So far, the endeavour has been a successful part of Meat Locker's larger goals. "When we started we knew that we wanted to be more than just a publisher. We wanted to do community initiatives and champion reading and getting people reading again." Beaudin says. Having both worked in publishing, they knew the way the industry was going in and wanted to stand out as an alternative.

A bicycle is more approachable than a car with an open trunk, and the Book Bike draws people in. Some of the curious approachers want to get published, or want an internship, or want a safe environment to read their work. As insiders, Curry and Beaudin can fill them in on details, suggest places they should pitch their work and point them in the direction of reading series or events they might like.

"Really we wanted also to bridge some of the gaps in the literary industry here, there are a ton of reading series in the city. But not a lot of people who are new to the city or who are new to writing have a way of getting in with those series," Beaudin says. "It’s nice to get people’s attention and then shuffle them into the world."

Meat Locker Editions also functions as a micro-press, with two published titles: Gross, a work of short fiction by Dave Proctor, and Licking Knives, a play by Melanie Hrymak. "We publish writers aged 18-35 with a focus on books on and by women. Giving young people a place to be represented in the changing industry is important to us." Curry says.

"With the Canadian book industry changing, people aren’t as willing to take chances on debut authors who don’t necessarily have a record of sales behind them," Beaudin says. "These voices and these stories are still important and one of our goals is to give them platform to get out there."

For more information, visit the Meat Locker Editions website.


Yvonne Bambrick, dandyhorse contributer, photographer and author of the best-selling Urban Cycling Survival Guide added a title to the Book Bike collection.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

The Reading Line Book Ride

The Reading Line: Books and Bikes on Bloor

Books and bikes: dandyhorse at the Toronto Public Library

Art Spin Bicycle Art Tour

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