9 of Toronto’s best literary events in 2017 


I try to get out to as many literary events as I can (at least to the ones that interest me). Here are a few of the highlights from this year. Looking forward to seeing what events this city has to offer in 2018!

Literary cocktail class at Famous Last Words

This was my first time visiting Famous Last Words, a book-themed bar in Toronto’s west end (I’ve since been back). We learned how to make cocktails that were inspired by authors and their books. You can read more about the class in the post I wrote back in February.

IFOA Weekly’s Lit Jam

This one is a bit biased because it’s not just an event I attended, but it’s also one I performed in. This was IFOA Weekly‘s inaugural interactive storytelling competition, held at Harbourfront Centre. Teams of emerging writers improvised stories on stage based on prompts from the audience. My team didn’t win, but it was a lot of fun. And, from what I can tell, the audience really enjoyed it, too.

Beer and Book Club with Zoe Whittall

Henderson Brewing Co. paired with their neighbour, House of Anansi Press, to present a series of beer and book club events. I’m not a beer drinker, but I am a fan of Zoe Whittall, so I attended on the evening when her book was discussed. For non-beer-drinkers, Henderson Brewing had their own root beer and lemon-and-ginger soda on tap. Whittall was interviewed by the brewery’s general manager, and while it wasn’t the best interview I’ve witnessed, I loved the casual atmosphere.

Trillium Book Award 30th anniversary readings

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Trillium Book Award, the Ontario Media Development Corporation organized an evening of readings by past winners. Authors who read included Kate Cayley, Wayson Choy and Nino Ricci. The event was free to attend, and was held at St. Paul’s Church on Bloor–a beautiful venue.

The Cooke Agency’s 25th anniversary event 

Celebrating 25 years of their literary agency, The Cooke Agency organized an event that raised funds for First Book Canada. Three Cooke Agency authors gave short readings–John Irving, Rupi Kaur and Jeff VanderMeer–which was followed by an entertaining and fascinating discussion among the authors led by literary agent Dean Cooke.

The Word on the Street

I couldn’t write a post about book events without mentioning The Word on the Street. It’s one of my favourite days of the year! This year, the book festival fell on what was quite possibly the hottest day of the year. This made it not as enjoyable for walking around, but I drank plenty of water and took breaks in the shade, and managed to stay almost all day. As always, I had a great time browsing (and buying) books at the booths of publishers and booksellers and attending some of the author talks.

IFOA: The Basement Revue

The Basement Revue is a showcase of Canadian musical and literary talent, where the performers are kept a secret until they are on stage. The showcase has been going on for more than 10 years, but this event, partnered with the IFOA, was my first time attending. Co-hosts musician (and Basement Revue founder) Jason Collett and poet Damian Rodgers put together a great lineup of music and readings. My favourite part was at the very end, when crime fiction writer and comedian Mark Billingham got on stage to provide some stand-up comedy, sharing some of the feedback he’s gotten from readers.

Between the Pages: Scotiabank Giller Prize readings

Held in Koerner Hall, each of the five Giller Prize shortlisted authors read from their books and then participated in a discussion led by journalist Johanna Schneller. At the time of the event, I hadn’t read any of the shortlisted titles. But after the event, I knew I wanted to read Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster (which I picked up that evening from Ben McNally Books) and Michael Redhill’s Bellevue Square (which I later checked out from Toronto Public Library).

Helen Humphreys at Toronto Reference Library

Helen Humphreys is one of  my favourite writers, and I was thrilled to see her promoting her newest book, The Ghost Orchard, at the Toronto Reference Library’s Beeton Hall. The room was packed–staff had to bring in some extra chairs. I’ve never heard so many questions from a book audience before, and while not all of them turned out to be actual questions, it was great to see the audience so engaged. I was also happy to have Humphreys sign my book afterwards. While I may have came across as a bit of a fangirl, it was nice to briefly discuss our mutual adoration of Robert Frost.


Fall events for Toronto book lovers

Fall is a great time to be a book lover living in Toronto. In addition to all of the new releases to read curled up with some hot apple cider, there are also lots of literary events to attend in the city. Here are a few to look out for.

Toronto’s First Post Office’s used book sale

There are lots of used book sales happening in Toronto this fall, including the college book sales at U of T. But Toronto’s First Post Office is having their first used book sale ever to raise money for the Town of York Historical Society’s research library. The sale runs September 22 to 25 during the post office’s regular operating hours. Perhaps there may be some gems waiting for you.

Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon Series

A new season of the Appel Salon series begins this month at the Toronto Reference Library. Authors appearing this fall include Claire Messud, Orhan Pamuk and Jennifer Egan. Tickets are free but are required. They can be reserved three weeks ahead of each event.

The Word on the Street festival

The Word on the Street festival is one of my favourite days of the year. A giant book fair that includes readings and talks by writers and publishing professionals? Yes, please! The Word on the Street is taking place at Harbourfront Centre on Sunday, September 24, 11 a.m, to 6 p.m. Buy some books and/or magazines, get some information about writers’ and literacy organizations and attend some readings or talks.

Toronto Public Library’s eh List Writer Series

The Toronto Public Library’s eh List Writer Series features Canadian authors at various library branches across the city. Some of the authors participating this season include Helen Humphreys, Catherine Hernandez and Alison Pick. These events are free and no tickets are required.

An Evening with David Sedaris

Humourist David Sedaris will be at the Sony Centre on Tuesday, October 17. At $45.13 to $60.13 per ticket, this is the priciest event on this list. However, Sedaris–who is quite an entertaining speaker and reader–has been known to not only sign books, but to also take the time to speak with every fan who lines up at the end of the event. It’s just a matter of whether or not you will be patient enough to wait your turn. (And whether or not you think the wait is worth the money.)

International Festival of Authors (IFOA)

October is filled with book events to choose from since IFOA runs from October 19 to 29 at Harbourfront Centre. Most events will run you $18 a ticket, but there are a few that cost a bit more and a few free ones, too. This year’s festival includes appearances by Heather O’Neill, John Boyne, Colm Tóibín and, of course, many others.

R. L. Stine at the AGO

If, like me, you were a fan of R. L. Stine’s Fear Street series growing up, you may want to attend his talk at the AGO on November 29. Tickets are $30 for the general public.

Various literary events at Famous Last Words

I’ve written about this west-end book-themed bar before and the literary cocktail class I attended. Since that time, Famous Last Words has created “Book Lover Tuesdays.” Each month, on different weeks, the bar hosts a silent reading party, a book exchange and a drop-in book club. These events aren’t specific to fall, but getting cozy in front of the bar’s fireplace with a cocktail and some fellow bookworms seems like a pretty good way to spend a fall evening.

One way to celebrate Freedom to Read Week


A few challenged books I found on my bookshelves.

Today kicks off Freedom to Read Week, a project of Canada’s Book and Periodical Council. From February 26 to March 4, the council’s Freedom of Expression Committee invites Canadians to reflect on our right to intellectual freedom.

The Freedom to Read website has several great suggestions on ways to get involved, but my favourite is freeing a challenged book.

How to free a challenged book

  1. Browse this list of challenged books for a title that you care about and own.
  2. Tag the book with the Free a Challenged Book label.
  3. Register the book on BookCrossing.com.
  4. Release the book for someone to find.
  5. Follow the book’s journey by heading to BookCrossing.com.

This initiative raises awareness about books that have been challenged in Canadian schools, libraries and bookstores. But freeing one of these titles is also an awesome way to share them with other people. It’s a way to connect with readers you may never meet, and with people who might not have easy access to these books.

I’m going to free a challenged book this week, and I hope you will, too. It can be difficult to part with a book that means a lot to you, but it’s time to release your edition into the world. It will do more good than it will sitting on your bookshelf, and it’s the perfect way to celebrate our freedom to read.

Literary cocktail classes at Toronto’s Famous Last Words


If you’re a fan of the recommended refreshments section in my book reviews, you will like Famous Last Words, a newish bar in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood.

This book-themed bar is cozy and adorable and has a full menu of cocktails made with a literary twist. It’s the perfect place to read or write. But my recent trip there wasn’t to do either of these things. I was there to take a literary cocktail class.

A couple of friends and I signed up for a class called The Roaring ’20s. We learned how to make cocktails that appear in The Great Gatsby (Gin Rickey, Mint Julep) as well as a couple of others from the era (The Last Word, Between the Sheets).


A Between the Sheets sitting on the Scrabble-tiled bar.

The class wasn’t all about the cocktails, though. We talked about the connection the drinks have to The Great Gatsby and about the characters in the book. We also talked about prohibition–an interesting discussion about history.

Sometimes the recommended refreshments in my book reviews are simply what I think would create a nice reading experience for a particular book. But, where it’s suitable, I try to connect the refreshments to food or drink that appears in the stories. So I absolutely love that Famous Last Words does this by serving drinks that are featured in books. They aren’t limited to this, though. They also create drinks that are inspired by stories and authors.


Can you spot the copy of Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words amongst all these bottles?

There are still three classes left in this series of literary cocktail classes. Check out Famous Last Words’ event page to see what’s coming up. And even if you don’t feel like taking a class (but it really is a lot of fun), you can always head over to the bar with a book. You’ll definitely find a refreshment to complement whatever it is you’re reading.

How my parents raised readers

Earlier this week, I went to the Toronto Reference Library to hear Will Schwalbe talk about his new memoir, Books for Living. At one point, he mentioned that his parents gave him and his siblings the greatest gift anyone can give someone: a love of reading.

This comment made me reflect on my own upbringing and how my parents managed to instil a love of reading in both my brother and me. Here are a few ways I think my parents managed to do just that.

They filled the house with books

My brother and I had our own bookshelves in our respective bedrooms, but there were books in the common areas of the house, too. There was a fair-sized bookcase in the living room and several others in the finished basement, all filled with books–everything from the classics to mystery novels to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

As a child, most of these books were above my reading level, but nothing was off limits to us. We could pick up any of the titles as we pleased. Even when I was too young to understand (or have an interest in) Thomas Hardy or Dylan Thomas, I still liked to run my fingers across the spines or flip through the pages of the books.

They read to us

Sometimes we’d sit on the couch together, and my parents would read a book to both me and my brother (Charlotte’s Web comes to mind). Other times, they would read to us in our bedrooms when we were being tucked in. Mom and Dad would take turns reading to each of us. I can’t say for certain, but I believe this happened every night–at least until we were too cool for it and preferred to read on our own.

They took us to the library

Our family visited our local branch of the public library frequently. It was something to do on a weekday evening or a weekend afternoon. Just going to the library and hanging out for a bit was fun, but of course we’d always bring a bundle of books home with us.

They gave us books as gifts

To this day, it’s been a tradition to give books as stocking stuffers in my family. It’s something we still look forward to: We all know we’re getting books; it’s just a question of which ones. Growing up, this small gesture helped ingrain in us the idea that books have a lot of value to offer. And not only did this ritual give us the joy of receiving books, but it taught us the joy of giving books, too.

Books can inform and educate, offer comfort, help us understand others and help us feel understood. So Schwalbe is right. A love of reading is the best gift you can give someone. And it’s something that, no matter what happens in life, no one can take away from them.