Try 1000 Things: Buying Books From A Vending Machine

Buying books is great fun. Perhaps too much fun, as my overflowing library attests. I try to go for a browse in a bookshop in every place I visit. I’ve bought books online, through the mail, and on the street. I’ve bought random lots of books not having a clue what they contained. But until recently I’d never bought books from a vending machine.

Monkeys Paw Toronto Book Store

When one of the gals in my book club mentioned it for the first time, buying books from a vending machine didn’t sound all that appealing. The best part of visiting a library or a book store is the sensory onslaught of looking at all of the interesting covers, touching all the smooth covers and running my fingertips over the textures of the embossed or cloth-covered volumes, the sound of the pages as they turn and the faint creak the spine makes. Don’t get me started about New Book Smell. When the new library opened in my neighbourhood I was there almost every day just soaking it up. I’ve managed to restrain myself from licking any books thus far, but the thought has crossed my mind. So the notion of books encased in a machine seemed cold and sterile to me, almost cruel. Monkeys Paw Vintage Typewriter A Nerd At Large

In my mind’s eye I imagined a glass-fronted vending machine with the latest popular fiction, teen supernatural romance (that’s a genre apparently, according to Barnes & Noble), and flavour-of-the-month business and self-help books inside. Perhaps I’d seen such an unappealing thing in an airport somewhere in my travels.

What I could not have conceived of in a million years was the BIBLIO-MAT. My book club gang eventually did organize a field trip to investigate this novel contraption we’d heard about. I set aside my initial misgivings once I saw this cool video:


The BIBLIO-MAT from Craig Small on Vimeo.

The BIBLIO-MAT lives at The Monkey’s Paw, which is an antiquarian bookstore on Dundas Street West in Toronto. You insert two dollars worth of coins and it makes some delightful whirrings, clunkety-clunks, and a loud BRRRRRINGGG as a bell rings when the book is released, before the emphatic thud that punctuates the book’s arrival at the bottom of the chute.

The book you get is completely random. The BIBLIO-MAT is a lucky dip into old and unusual books. The four of us arrived with pocketfuls of toonies, so we gave it a good road test. Madeleine was the first to give the BIBLIO-MAT a whirl. As the photos convey, it was an exciting experience. On her first go she got a weird old book on heredity.

Biblio Mat Monkeys Paw Mad A Nerd At Large

I went next and received a book called Six Months In Italy for my trouble.

BIBLIO MAT Book Monkeys Paw A Nerd At Large

Madeleine had another go and got a book on oriental rugs.

Shelley’s turn yielded Carburetors, Volume 1 which is bound to be a cliffhanger.


Tracy had a go and got a book on lacquerware that she seemed rather pleased with.

BIBLIO MAT Monkey's Paw

I had another turn and was rewarded with Modern Marvels Encyclopedia, which is both fascinating and bewildering.

Madeleine went again and received Engines from the same series as the carburetor book. Luckily engines only require one volume apparently, so she won’t be left wondering at the end.


Shelley doubled down after her automotive disappointment and got a book on the Red River that was more to her liking.

As awesome and entertaining as the BIBLIO-MAT is, the setting enhances the experience. The Monkey’s Paw is a fun shop to explore and it definitely satisfied my sensory inclinations. They sell an extremely eclectic and carefully curated assortment of old books. The vast majority of books were non-fiction and the proprietor seems to value specificity more than anything. There were very few general books, but oodles of titles on highly specific and esoteric subjects. For instance, I was drawn to a book on the history of the word “decadence.” On one wall there is a whole series of of tiny booklets on topics like How to Cane and Upholster Chairs, Prostitution in the Medieval World, and The Spirit of Brazilian Literature.

Monkeys Paw Cookbooks Campbells Soup Box A Nerd At Large

The whole store has a pleasant retro vibe, from the beautiful old wood bookcases, to the vintage desks like my granddad used to have, and the cool and surprisingly useful magnifying glass at the front desk. There’s a whole display of vintage maps that undoubtedly stir the wanderlust in anyone. The only new items for sale in the entire store are biological specimens encased in Lucite that are engrossing to examine.

biological specimens in lucite

So, I’m glad I tried buying books from a vending machine. I can’t say that it will become my go-to method of biblioacquisition, but it was certainly an entertaining and memorable experience. If you’re visiting Toronto and looking for something nerdiliciously offbeat to do, I’d recommend stopping by and taking the BIBLIO-MAT for a spin.

Monkeys Paw Toronto Vintage Maps


    1. You should definitely check it out if you have time. I bet you’d find all kinds of treasures there. The entomological specimens were riveting and I’m not even a fan of bugs, so I think you would love them.

      One word of warning about the BIBLIO-MAT is that it often dispenses big, heavy books, so you may want to plan your day accordingly if you don’t want to be stuck with the extra bulk and weight all day. Then again, that’s what you’re bringing Kevin for, right?

  1. Well, can’t say any of my catches were flashlight-under-the-covers exciting, but the experience was a hoot.
    Great write-up, Steph, and your pics are brilliant!

    1. Thanks Shelley. Also, thanks again for suggesting the outing! I’m glad my preconceptions didn’t keep me from going because it was a blast! I have lots more photos. I’ll try to get some of them up on Flickr soon and you can see them.

  2. I was just reading this and going, “aww, I’d love to try it” – then at the end, OMG IT’S IN TORONTO AND I’LL BE IN TORONTO AT THE END OF THIS MONTH!!!

    This sounds absolutely fantastic and like so much fun. I need a new book to read, and I’m hopeful for what the Biblio-Mat will give me, since Carburetors Volume I is now taken. I think I’d have been a bit bummed out with that one, too.

    1. That’s awesome. Thanks for your comment. I’m glad I got around to posting this before TBEX! Sounds like quite a few people will be making tracks over to The Monkey’s Paw. I hope we get to say hello to one another during the craziness that is TBEX.

  3. I wish there was one of these nearby! Though I’m not sure what I’d do with any extra books on car repair I happened to get.

    1. I would love to build one! You can see inside it in the video and it doesn’t look overly complex. If only I had spare time on my hands!

      If you have books you don’t want, there’s always BookCrossing!

  4. I never knew I could have so much fun reading about buying books from a vending machine! 🙂 Great post, makes me want go, drop in a toonie & see what title it will spit out at me.

    1. Thanks! It’s definitely worthy of an outing if you’re in the city. It pairs well with the Trinity Bellwoods Chocolate Tour which I will be writing about shortly. They’re both in the same neighbourhood.

    1. Thanks Mariella! Yes, the BIBLIO-MAT is just one component of the whole Monkey’s Paw experience. Really, it’s a creative alternative to having a clearance bin, but it’s so much more stylish and fun. I’m glad my post changed your mind!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.