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.

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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.

The changing landscape of language

The Toronto skyline is constantly changing.

The Toronto skyline is constantly changing.

My neighbourhood is changing. For one thing, a building is going up next to mine. It won’t directly obstruct my view, but if I stand at my window and turn my head to my right, there it is: a large piece of concrete staring back at me.

I used to be able to see the CN Tower in its entirety when I looked in this direction. I liked seeing which colours lit up the tower each night before I closed the curtains and got into bed. But it’s almost completely gone from view now.

Why do I care so much? After all, the view is the same when I look straight ahead. And, really, the CN Tower can be seen pretty much anywhere in this city.

It might just be nostalgia. I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for more than five years, and very little seems to stay the same. You get used to something, and then it changes. The city never takes a break. It never just lets itself be.

The historic St. Lawrence Market with the not-yet-finished L Tower in the background.

The historic St. Lawrence Market with the not-yet-finished sleek L Tower to the right.

It’s similar to language. New words are added to our lexicon all the time, and when they are added to the dictionary, some people find it harder to accept than others.

Recently, Oxford Dictionaries announced a list of words that were added to OxfordDictionaries.com (which is different from the OED). I know some people who are having a hard time accepting that words such as adorbshumblebrag and mansplain have become a part of our lexicon. (Personally, I’m happy to have a more reliable source than Urban Dictionary to define some of these terms for me.)

If you’re someone who is uncomfortable with these additions, don’t worry. If you want to say crazy instead of cray, you can. Because even if there comes a day when people stop saying crazy, there will still be a place for it in the dictionary where its definition can be looked up. When words are added into the dictionary, nothing is taken out to make room. There’s space for both the old and the new.

Conversely, changes in our physical settings come and go. Buildings are knocked down, turned into parking lots and then built upon again. It can be difficult to keep track of everything. Sometimes it’s easy to forget what stood in one place before something new came in.

When I look out my window and see that changing view, I’m watching something being built, but I’m also watching something disappear. Maybe there will come a day when I forget about my ritual of checking the colour of the tower’s lights. I suppose I’ll have to rely on photographic evidence to remind me of what I once saw.

It’s all part of a bigger picture, I suppose—just as language is fluid, so is the city. And like our lexicon, the city will forever be reinventing itself, always developing, never complete.

Saying goodbye to a bookshop

One of my favourite bookstores is closing. If you live in the Toronto area, particularly if you’re interested in books (and you probably are, if you’re reading my blog), you might have heard that Nicholas Hoare is retiring and will be closing his flagship store on April 1.

I can’t remember how old I was when I first visited Nicholas Hoare, but I do remember the impression it made on me. The warm lighting and the beautiful displays of books against the wooden shelves mesmerized me. Now, whenever I open that door and walk up those few steps, when I hear the creak of the floorboards, the classical music, when I walk by the fireplace–it all feels so welcoming and comfortable. And it might help that the store specializes in British books, as I admit to being a bit of an anglophile.

The quietness of the store has its appeal, too. I’ve always loved listening to other people discuss books. With these kinds of conversations, it somehow seems okay to eavesdrop or to jump in with a comment.

When I think of some of the books I’ve purchased from the store in the past year, I can’t think of one that was disappointing. I’m not sure if this is due to fine selection by the staff, or just some magical luck, but the books that immediately come to mind were all enjoyable: David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, Jeremy Mercer’s Time Was Soft There, Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, Alix Ohlin’s Inside, Mary Horlock’s The Book of Lies, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

It was at Nicholas Hoare where I found a beautiful copy of Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings that I gave to my father for his birthday one year. I’ve shopped for books for my cousin’s daughter in the children’s section at the back of the shop, and I’ve purchased various Christmas presents for friends and family here. And, of course, there have been those occasions when I’ve come in just to browse.

Near the end of 2012, I attended an in-store event where Nicholas Hoare presented some of his favourite books of the season. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to hear Mr. Hoare speak in person, as his passion for books was certainly evident.

I wish Mr. Hoare a happy retirement, and I thank him and his wonderful staff for all of their hard work. I’ll miss this store quite a bit, more than I thought I could miss a bricks-and-mortar shop, probably because it’s been much more than merely bricks and mortar.