The Book

Imagining Toronto book cover

Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, fall 2010) is available at most bookstores and online through Mansfield Press, Amazon or Chapters.

Imagining Toronto was shortlisted for the 2010 Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism and won the Award of Merit, the highest honour given to a book at the 2011 Heritage Toronto Awards.

Upcoming Events

25-26 February 2012: "Going Native: Reclaiming Aboriginal Identity in Toronto Literature," “Landscapes of Difference, Espaces de Difference, Raume der Differenz” conference (Session: The Politcs of Place: Urban Sites of Contestation), Canadian Studies Association in German-speaking countries (GKS). Grainau, Germany.

Thursday 15 March 2012: Guest lecture, "The Imagined City," ARC 120, Contemporary Architecture. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, University of Toronto; Isabel Bader Theatre, 9:45-11:00 am.

Wednesday 4 April 2012: "Representing Toronto: Mapping the Role of the Artist in the Contemporary City. Panel discussion. Presented by Koffler Gallery in partnership with Diaspora Dialogues. 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 503; 7:00 pm.

Sunday 22 April 2012: Reading from Acts of Salvage at the Draft Reading Series. Details TBA.

Thursday 3 May 2012: "Literary Bodies." Panel discussion as part of Bodies in the City, a symposium of the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.

Thursday 17 May 2012: "Imagining Toronto the Wild" at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Inaugural lecture of the TBG's new HortiCULTURE salon series.

Recent Events

Tuesday 18 October 2011, 7:00-8:30 pm: Will the Real Cabbagetown Please Stand Up?: Regent Park, St. Jamestown and Cabbagetown in the Literary Imagination. Parliament Branch (269 Gerrard St. E.)

Saturday 1 October 2011, 2:00-3:30 pm: The Masseys and the Masses: Social and Spatial Ascendency in Rosedale and Forest Hill. Forest Hill Branch (700 Eglinton Ave. W.)

Tuesday 27 September 2011, 7:00-8:30 pm: From Streetcar Suburb to Multicultural Community: Riverdale in the Literary Imagination. Riverdale Branch, Toronto Public Library (370 Broadview Ave.)

Click here for past events.

100 Toronto Books You Should Read

As the BBC’s list of the UK’s best loved 100 novels makes its tedious way around the internet more than seven years after BBC listeners voted for their favourite books, readers continue to measure their own literary prowess against the list. One meme that regularly makes rounds on social networking sites is a similar list headlined by the claim that “the BBC believes the majority of people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.”

A number of commentators have pointed out (1) that the BBC appears never to have made such a claim, (2) the list varies (sometimes widely) from one incarnation to the next, (3) the list is quite Anglo-centric and (4) that (among other things) participants tend to exaggerate the works they have read (the ‘works of William Shakespeare,’ for example, is a far longer list than many people think, and James Joyce’s Ulysses a longer and more complicated novel than many readers seem to recall).

In truth there are dozens of “100 books you must read or die a Philistine” lists out there. While some of them are fun to read (or measure your own reading against), they are typically limited by some fatal combination of patronizing elitism and cultural narrowness.

As an alternative, I present herewith a list of the top 100 Toronto books you should read. Please feel welcome to share this list around, highlighting your own reads and perhaps mentioning somewhere that the TLC (Toronto Literary Committee) believes the majority of Torontonians won’t have read more than six of these books. Are you elite enough to have read more?

The Toronto Canon

1. Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman (or any of Atwood’s other Toronto novels)
2. Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels (other Davies novels set mainly in Toronto accepted)
3. Timothy Findley, Headhunter
4. Hugh Garner, Cabbagetown (1968 Ryerson Press edition as well as the 1950 White Circle abridged version)
5. Dennis Lee, Civil Elegies
6. Gwendolyn MacEwen, Noman’s Land
7. Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces
8. bpNichol, The Martyrology Book V
9. Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin Of A Lion
10. Josef Skvorecky, The Engineer of Human Souls

Forgotten Classics

11. Earle Birney, Down The Long Table
12. Augustus Bridle, Hansen: A Novel Of Canadianization
13. Morley Callaghan, Strange Fugitive
14. Henry Kreisel, The Rich Man
15. Wyndham Lewis, Self-Condemned
16. Joyce Marshall, Lovers and Strangers
17. George F. Millner, The Sergeant of Fort Toronto
18. Ernest Thompson Seton, Wild Animals I Have Known (bonus point for Two Little Savages)
19. Patrick Slater, The Yellow Briar
20. Phyllis Brett Young, The Torontonians

New Classics

21. Dionne Brand, What We All Long For
22. Catherine Bush, Minus Time
23. Barbara Gowdy, Falling Angels (or Mister Sandman or The Romantic or Helpless)
24. Maggie Helwig, Girls Fall Down
25. Rabindranath Maharaj, The Amazing Absorbing Boy
26. Darren O’Donnell, Your Secrets Sleep With Me
27. Michael Redhill, Consolation
28. Emily Schultz, Heaven Is Small
29. Russell Smith, How Insensitive (or Noise or Muriella Pent)
30. Alissa York, Fauna


[in addition to works of poetry included elsewhere in this list]

31. Margaret Avison, Momentary Dark (also Concrete and Wild Carrot)
31 1/2. Ronna Bloom, Public Works
32. Dionne Brand, Thirsty
33. Alice Burdick, Simple Master
34. Lynn Crosbie, Queen Rat: New and Selected Poems
35. Rishma Dunlop, Metropolis
36. Maggie Helwig, Talking Prophet Blues
37. Daniel Jones, the brave never write poetry
38. Gwendolyn MacEwen, Afterworld
39. Stuart Ross, Razovsky At Peace
40. Raymond Souster, Collected Poems Volumes 1-10

The City of Neighbourhoods

41. Sarah Dearing, Courage My Love
42. Claudia Dey, Stunt
43. Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town
44. Katherine Govier, Fables of Brunswick Avenue
45. Helen Humphreys, Leaving Earth
46. Don Lyons, Yorkville Diaries
47. Katrina Onstad, How Happy To Be
48. Ted Plantos, The Universe Ends at Sherbourne and Queen
49. Ray Robertson, Moody Food
50. George F. Walker, The East End Plays (Criminals In Love, Better Living and Beautiful City)

Culture and Identity

51. Gordon Stewart Anderson, The Toronto You Are Leaving
52. Joseph Boyden, Born With a Tooth
53. David Chariandy, Soucouyant
54. Austin Clarke, More (or his ‘Toronto trilogy:’ The Meeting Point, Storm of Fortune and The Bigger Light)
55. Farzana Doctor, Stealing Nasreen
56. Odimumba Kwamdela, Niggers This Is Canada
57. Rabindranath Maharaj, Homer In Flight
58. Richard Scrimger, Crosstown
59. Antanas Sileika, Buying On Time
60. M.G. Vassanji, No New Land

Genre Fiction

61. Kelley Armstrong, Bitten
62. Rosemary Aubert, Firebrand
63. Linwood Barclay, Bad Move
64. Pat Capponi, Last Stop Sunnyside
65. Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl In The Ring (eagerly awaited: her forthcoming novel, tentatively titled T’Aint)
66. Tanya Huff, Blood Price (or any other of Huff’s Blood series. Bonus point for Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light)
67. Maureen Jennings, Poor Tom Is Cold (or any other of her Murdoch Mysteries)
68. John McFetridge, Dirty Sweet or Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
69. Robert Rotenberg, Old City Hall
70. Robert Charles Wilson, The Perseids and Other Stories

Children’s Books

71. Ramabai Espinet (illustrated by Veronica Sullivan), The Princess of Spadina
72. Cary Fagan, The Market Wedding
73. Zelda Freedman, Rosie’s Dream Cape
74. Bernice Thurman Hunter, That Scatterbrain Booky (see also With Love From Booky and As Ever Booky)
75. Teddy Jam (Matt Cohen; illustrated by Eric Beddows), Night Cars
76. Dennis Lee (illustrated by Frank Newfeld), Alligator Pie
77. Robert Munsch (illustrated by Michael Martchenko), Jonathan Cleaned Up–Then He Heard A Sound; or; Blackberry Subway Jam
78. Barbara Nichol, Dippers
79. Barbara Reid, The Subway Mouse
80. Joan Schwartz and Matt Beam, City Alphabet


81. Janine Armin and Nathaniel G. Moore (eds.), Toronto Noir
82. Barry Callaghan (ed.), This Ain’t No Healing Town: Toronto Stories
83. Lynn Crosbie and Michael Holmes (eds.), Plush
84. Cary Fagan and Robert MacDonald (eds.), Streets of Attitude: Toronto Stories
85. William Kilbourn, The Toronto Book
86. Dennis Lee (ed.), T.O. Now: The Young Toronto Poets
87. Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni (ed.), Italian Canadian Voices: A Literary Anthology, 1946-2004
88. Karen Richardson & Steven Greed (eds.) T-Dot Griots: An Anthology of Toronto’s Black Storytellers
89. Helen Walsh (ed.), TOK: Writing The New Toronto, Volumes 1-5
90. Dennis Wolfe and Douglas Daymond (eds.), Toronto Short Stories

Unforgettable but Uncategorizable

91. Ansara Ali, The Sacred Adventures of a Taxi Driver
92. Hedi Bouraoui, Thus Speaks The CN Tower
93. Juan Butler, The Garbageman
94. Daniel Jones, 1978
95. Crad Kilodney, Excrement (see also Putrid Scum)
96. Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim, Volumes I-VI.
97. Annie G. Savigny, A Romance Of Toronto
98. John Reid, The Faithless Mirror
99. Jarvis Warwick (Hugh Garner), Waste No Tears
100. Scott Symons, Civic Square

Amy Lavender Harris is the author of Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, fall 2010).

5 comments to 100 Toronto Books You Should Read

  • marlene anderson

    Thank you for including Gordon Stewart Anderson’s book THE TORONTO
    YOU ARE LEAVING No. 51 in your culture and idendity section.

  • Your list is missing one significant Toronto-based title, Mighty Oaks.
    No doubt this is due in part to the fact that you haven’t yet read it, and also in part because it spans the assigned categories of New Classics, Poetry, The City of Neighbourhoods, Culture and Identity and Genre Fiction making Mighty Oaks, like the city of Toronto, hard to place neatly into just one pigeon hole.
    No doubt a future list will correct this oversight.

  • Marlene: The Toronto You Are Leaving really is an essential Toronto read, and it was a pleasure to include it in the list. The novel gets a bit of detailed treatment in Imagining Toronto (pp 65-66, 72, 216-217).

    Lorne: The list was curated to include books that have (or should have) achieved iconic status and/or reveal new and interesting facets of the city’s character. It’s only one thin slice (but hopefully a representative one) of the thousands of literary works engaging with Toronto.

  • Tan Light

    In Genre fiction, Bitten’s author should be Kelley Armstrong.

    Thanks! Great list!

  • Eek! Thank you for pointing out the error, Tan. I’ve corrected it.

    Kelley Armstrong’s two novels set at least partly in Toronto are Bitten (Random House, 2001) and Broken (Random House, 2006). Both are highly recommended for anyone interested in urban fantasy (in this case, involving werewolves!

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