Fall in love with books

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One week from today, fall will officially arrive. Cardigans, colourful leaves, butternut squash soup–there is a lot to look forward to. But one of the best things about fall is that with all the festivals and new releases, it’s book season.

If you’re a book lover living in, or visiting, Toronto, here are a few suggestions on how to ensure you have a very bookish autumn.

Attend Word on the Street

September 25, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Harbourfront Centre 

While it’s free to attend Word on the Street, be prepared to spend some money here. Even if you don’t find a good deal, it’s hard to resist making a few purchases with so many publishers and bookstores selling books. And it’s not just books or magazines you’ll be tempted to buy. The festival has had some nice merchandise in previous years (tote bags, pins, mugs and more).

The festival is more than a chance for a shopping spree. It provides an opportunity to learn about some great literacy organizations and writers’ associations, and there is some great programming, with many author readings and industry talks happening throughout the day.

Check out the International Festival of Authors (IFOA)

October 20-30, various times, Harbourfront Centre

Unlike Word on the Street, you’ll have to spend a few bucks to attend the talks and readings happening at the IFOA. But the festival runs for over a week, so there is a lot to choose from. There’s something for everyone, with many writers and genres to explore. Books will also be for sale, and there are opportunities to get your books signed by authors in attendance.

Go to a used-book sale

various locations

There’s something exciting about hunting through piles of books and then finding a little treasure (or a few) that seems to be marked at a price that’s much lower than what it’s worth. Autumn in Toronto offers several opportunities for this experience.

A few book sales to consider are happening at Trinity College, Victoria College and the Toronto Public Library. Bonus: You’ll know that the money you do spend at these sales will contribute to a good cause.

Visit an independent bookstore

various locations

Shopping at your local bookstore is fun no matter what the season. But with so many titles released in the fall in anticipation of the holidays, there will be lots of new books to choose from. And independent bookstores offer more than a place to browse or buy books. Many stores host book launches and other events. Two to check out are Ben McNally Books and Type Books.

Enjoy the weather with a book

anytime, anywhere (or all the time, everywhere)

It’s a pleasure to read a book in any season, whether it’s sitting outside under a tree in the summer, or getting cozy on the couch under a blanket in the winter. But in the fall, you can have weeks when weather conditions are perfect for both of these scenarios. And what’s really nice is when you can combine the best of both worlds: reading outside with a hot beverage in hand.

Cordelia Strube’s latest novel shines

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What I read

On the Shores of Darkness, There Is Light by Cordelia Strube

What it’s about

The story centres around Harriet, an 11-year-old artist who is independent and resourceful, and her little brother, Irwin, whose medical condition is the focus of their mother’s and stepfather’s attention. Harriet plans to escape her family and head to Algonquin Park, where she can live and paint like Tom Thomson. But not everything works out the way Harriet plans.

This is a story that explores the complexities and imperfections within families. It’s a story that’s sad and tragic, but there’s lots of humour inserted that gives the narrative balance and also makes it true to life. There is darkness, and there is light.

How I got my hands on it

I quite enjoyed Strube’s last two novels–Milosz and Lemon–so the author was on my radar. I knew I wanted to read this one when it was released earlier this year, but I only recently picked up a copy at my favourite independent bookstore.

What I liked about it

As with Lemon, Strube does a fantastic job of creating interesting and complex young female characters. But it’s not just Harriet’s story that kept me reading. There are so many fascinating and flawed characters in this book and several subplots. There is a well-executed twist in this book, too. Who can resist a good literary twist?

You’ll want to read it if…

This is a great book to pick up if you like stories about families and especially about sibling relationships. If you live in, have lived in, or have a fascination with Toronto, you might get a kick out of the mentions of many of the city’s landmarks, too.

Recommended refreshments

In the book, Harriet often visits a convenience store where the owner gives her some of the damaged treats he can’t sell. So I suggest opening a bag of broken Doritos, biting into a smashed Caramilk bar, or, if it’s a lucky day, guzzling down a bottle of Orangina.

Musings on The Muse

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What I read

The Muse by Jessie Burton

What it’s about

In 1967, 26-year-old Odelle Bastien has taken a job as a typist at the Skelton Art Gallery in London, England, after moving from Trinidad a few years earlier. Soon after starting to work in the gallery, Odelle encounters a painting that connects her with southern Spain in 1936. Odelle is compelled to piece together the mystery behind the subject of the artwork, the artist who painted it and the story of how it ended up where it did. 

The novel follows two narratives–one taking place in 1967 and the other in 1936–and demonstrates the power of art and how art is bigger than, and separate from, the artist.

How I got my hands on it

I first heard about Burton through the Twitter account of her literary agent, Juliet Mushens, when Burton’s first novel, The Miniaturist, came out two years ago. The Miniaturist received much acclaim, but I didn’t read it because the premise didn’t interest me. But when I started hearing things about The Muse, it piqued my interest. I bought my copy at my favourite independent bookstore.

Things I liked about it

I love stories that show interconnectivity between people, time periods or geographical locations, and this book does all three. What’s more, the story makes these connections through discussing art–an ekphrastic tale of sorts. Also, Burton does an excellent job of placing the reader in two separate time periods and locations; there’s a different feeling and landscape to each narrative.

I also like that while Odelle and the reader put together the story of the painting, not all details are left neat and tidy. It makes for a satisfying ending that’s also realistic.

You’ll want to read it if…

You might enjoy The Muse if you’re a fan of art, mysteries or historical fiction. And if you like all three, that’s even better.

Recommended refreshments

Gin and tonic with a slice of lemon. That’s what Odelle and her new boss partake in when they have lunch during Odelle’s first week at the gallery. And, really, art and libations are a classic pairing.

Book-browsing in Boston

I have a thing for Boston. The first time I visited was in 2012. I recently went back and spent a few days in this beautiful city.

One of the reasons I love Boston is for its literary history and the continued appreciation for the written word the city seems to have.

The last time I visited, I took a tour of the public library, joined a literary walking tour and went up to Cambridge to see Harvard and go to the Harvard Book Store. I didn’t get a chance to do those things this time around, but I did do some book-browsing at three great bookstores and one pop-up library.

My first stop was Brattle Book Shop, a famous used and antiquarian bookstore. I went even though I knew it would be closed. The shop has an outdoor section, and I wanted to get a look at the artwork. The mural is visible at all times, but the doors painted with images of books and book spines are only shown when the shop is closed, as these are the doors that lock up the books.

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Brattle Book Shop mural

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I did, of course, return to the shop when it was open.

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Then I headed over to Commonwealth Books, another store selling used books. It’s not as easy to find as Brattle, as Commonwealth is down an alley, but there are plenty of books to look through when you arrive.

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The only bookstore I visited that sells new books was Trident Booksellers & Cafe, a really cute shop in the Back Bay area. I even had lunch in the upstairs cafe.

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I also got to do some book-browsing when I wasn’t expecting it. I went to the very touristy Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area and stumbled upon a small library out in the square. It made me smile to find it there.

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Next time you visit a new place, maybe skip the museums and galleries and just do some book-browsing instead. Admittedly, it might end up costing you more than the price of museum admission if the book-browsing excursions turn into book-buying excursions. Set yourself a limit so you’ll (hopefully) have some cash left in your wallet by the time you head home.

The Girls: a tale of teenage loneliness and grisly murder

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What I read

The Girls by Emma Cline

What it’s about

This debut novel follows 14-year-old Evie Boyd during the summer of 1969 when she is drawn to a group of girls—and one in particular—who belong to a cult. The story is inspired by the Manson family and the murders they committed, but it’s about more than that: Most notably it’s a story about teenage loneliness—of wanting to be seen by someone, anyone—and it explores the dynamic of female relationships.

How I got my hands on it

The Girls came up in conversation at work. When I mentioned I was interested in reading it, a coworker was nice enough to lend me her copy.

Things I liked

All I really knew about this book before I read it was that it was about a young girl who joins a cult and that it was inspired by the Manson family. That premise intrigued me. But I didn’t expect that I would enjoy Cline’s style of writing as much as I did. While she may have overdone it in places, many of her metaphors and descriptions were beautiful.

The structure of the book is also worth mentioning. The story interweaves the present—where a middle-aged Evie reflects on the past—with the summer of 1969. The parts of the book that take place in the present are not as interesting or as powerful as the parts that take place in the past, but Cline gets the balance right. And when we are in those present-day sections, Evie feeds us tidbits of details of what ends up happening, providing bait that I eagerly bit into.

You’ll want to read it if…

If, like me, you’re fond of coming-of-age stories, you’ll like this book. This is also a good read if you’re someone who likes psychological books—if you like to try to get into the mind of someone who does something you can’t fathom.

And if you’re avoiding it because of its gruesome inspiration, I’d ask you to reconsider. The story is really more about searching for identity, looking for a place to belong and trying to connect with another person.

Recommended refreshments

The first thing that comes to mind is a tall glass of OJ. This might be partly because of the California setting, but there are a few mentions of orange juice in the book. Granted, usually it’s mentioned to remark upon its absence (someone going to get orange juice but not bringing it back, a description of a splash of OJ in a glass filled with vodka). Maybe that’s symbolic of the absence of sunshiny optimism, or the disappearance of the innocence of youth. Or maybe I’m giving it too much thought. In any case, the pot of Earl Grey tea seen in the above photo suited me just fine, so that’s an option, too.