Spring and summer in Toronto for book lovers

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There’s one month left of spring, and the May long weekend is the unofficial start of summer. Temperatures have been a little unstable in Toronto lately, but warmer weather is coming. If you’re in the city, here are some ways to make the next few months a bit more literary.

Go on a bookshop crawl

Step outside your comfort zone of your local indie and explore more of Toronto’s independent bookstores. Devote a day to walk or bike to as many as you choose.

Two of my favourite Toronto bookshops are Ben McNally Books in the financial district and Book City on the Danforth. The city’s newest bookstore, Queen Books in Leslieville, may also be of interest.

Need some help planning your route? BlogTO has a handy list of the city’s best bookstores that includes a map showing their locations.

Arrange a picnic for your book club

Book clubs often meet in a member’s home or in a pub or coffee shop. But when the weather’s nice, the options for meeting places increase. Sure, you can enjoy the sunshine on a patio somewhere, but there are also lots of beautiful parks to gather in. Organize a potluck picnic for your book club and sprawl out on some blankets.

If it weren’t for the recent flooding, I’d suggest going to the Toronto Islands. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look that that will be an option for a while. Luckily, there are lots of great parks in the city–High Park, Trinity Bellwoods or Withrow Park, to name a few.

Take your book outside

I know this one is obvious, but it can’t be omitted: Read outside. Go to a park, the beach, a patio or simply find a bench to occupy or a tree to sit under. Some of Toronto Public Library’s branches have outdoor reading gardens where you can hang out.

Spend some time alone with a book or try going on a reading date with a friend or romantic partner. (Tip: Break for ice cream or lemonade and discuss what you’re each reading.)

Use rainy days to your advantage

Sometimes the weather won’t be ideal to be outside. On those days, you can head to the Toronto Reference Library to do some exploring. While you’re there, stop by Page & Panel to pick up a literary T-shirt–perfect to wear when the sun comes out again.

If you want to enjoy some refreshments in a literary atmosphere, go to Famous Last Words to enjoy a book-inspired cocktail, or to Bookworm Coffee, where you can check out their library with a caffeinated beverage in hand.

Another option: Stay home. Sometimes there’s nothing better than curling up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book, listening to the rain and thunder. No matter what the weather’s like, there’s never a bad time to be reader.

Literary cocktail classes at Toronto’s Famous Last Words

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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).

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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.

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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.

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.

Five of Toronto’s best literary events in 2014

This post is specifically about Toronto events, but if you’d like to read about the literary aspects of my trip to England earlier this year, visit my posts Lured back to London and Following the path of a poet.

Toronto hosts a lot of literary events. I don’t attend them all, of course, but I do get out to a few. In no particular order, here are five of my favourite literary events that I attended in 2014 in this city.

The Poem/The Song

To me, nothing goes better with a fall evening than listening to poetry being recited. This harkens back to my university days, when I spent some of my evenings inside classrooms studying poetry. One of the friends I attended many of those classes with invited me to The Poem/The Song held in Harbourfront Centre Theatre back in November. I don’t think I would have heard about it if she hadn’t mentioned it, as I hadn’t seen or read anything about it before or after. But I’m so glad we went. It wasn’t solely a literary event. As the title suggests, the evening largely focused on music. The Art of Time Ensemble performed musical works that are inspired by poems or poetry. There were pieces inspired by T. S. Eliot, Leonard Cohen, Walt Whitman and Petrarch. Margaret Atwood was also there to recite some of her own work. It was a unique way to honour two of my favourite art forms.

45 Books in 45 Minutes at Ben McNally Books

Ben McNally and Lynn Thomson host this event twice a year in their store in the financial district. The first for 2014 was held in the summer, and the second was in December, a few weeks before Christmas. During these evenings, Ben and Lynn provide a brief overview of 45 books that are new for the season (they also provide some delicious refreshments). They discuss some titles that are getting a lot of buzz, but one of the best reasons to go is that Ben and Lynn also discuss books you wouldn’t hear about it unless they told you about them. What’s better than partaking in some wine and cheese and hearing your favourite booksellers talk about books?

Tom Rachman reading at IFOA Weekly

This year, I went to many of the readings that were part of IFOA’s Weekly Series at Harbourfront Centre. But I’ve specifically included Tom Rachman in this list because of all of the readings I went to, his stands out the most in my mind. That’s partly because I was in the middle of reading Rachman’s latest book, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, which he’d be reading from that June evening. Rachman began by talking a bit about his process of writing the book, discussing the various drafts he went through until he finally got the story right. He also inserted a sense of humour into his reading. When he signed my book afterwards, we had a short conversation about our affinity for independent bookstores…and also about the never-ending construction in this city.

It was raining that night. I remember the rain because it had started to fall so heavily by the time I left, that even though I had a bag to put my book in and an umbrella to hold above me, I had to tuck the book under my arm, and hug it close to my body, in an effort to protect it. (The book remained dry, but 85-90% of my body did not.)

Open Book Toronto literary salon: Advice for Myself

On a freezing cold February evening, I headed over to the Spoke Club for Open Book Toronto‘s literary salon, Advice for Myself. A panel of three writers—Stacey May Fowles, Brian Francis and Michael Winter—offered advice for both emerging and established writers, and there was the opportunity to mingle before and after. Becky Toyne moderated the event, but in the spirit of a true literary salon, there was also interaction from the audience. It was interesting to hear the different approaches and opinions that Stacey, Brian and Michael have, and I left feeling encouraged about my writing and with a few ideas that helped me improve my work.

The Word on the Street

This might be the most obvious choice on this list. The Word on the Street book festival happens every year and in cities across Canada, not just Toronto. If you’re reading my blog, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of it or have attended yourself. But I couldn’t leave it out. The Word on the Street is like Christmas for me, and I don’t mean that in the sense that I come home with an armload of books (I’ve scaled it down over the years). But I get pretty excited in the anticipation in the weeks leading up to that last Sunday in September. Sure, there’s the chance to browse some great books, and maybe even score some deals. But there’s also the opportunity to learn more about some wonderful organizations. This year, I had some nice chats with people from PEN Canada and Literature for Life, among others. There was also some interesting programming offered in many of the tents, including the Humber School for WritersWordshop Marquee, which I spent some time in.

Those are just a few examples of some of the wonderful events I and other Toronto-area readers and writers enjoyed in 2014. Wherever you live (or wherever you visit), there will be more to experience in 2015. I, for one, am looking forward to it.