Word on the Street is Toronto’s premier literary event — an outdoor festival celebrating books, authors, publishing and all things literary. This year’s WOTS, held last week on a gorgeous September Sunday, reportedly attracted more than 200,000 visitors, a record number I can believe, having spent the entire day basking in sunshine and books as people with their kids, dogs and loot-filled bags thronged Queen’s Park Circle.
For me the highlights of WOTS are the books themselves. In past years I’ve read and attended readings in the various performance tents (and had the pleasure this year of catching Sean Dixon, author of The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn (Coach House, spring 2011) — my favourite Toronto novel of the year — and Farzana Doctor, whose Six Metres of Pavement was published earlier this year by Dundurn) and always enjoy encountering literary acquaintances old and new, but for me the publishers, booksellers and literary organizations’ tents are the real reason I go.
My book haul this year wasn’t as excessive as it has been in some years past, when I would typically fill two or three bags and labour home with them [to say nothing of the year my visiting mother received a kiss from a literary celebrity and bought so many books we struggled to the station]. But for some reason this year I spent the same amount of money as always [that is, far too much] and had a lovely time doing so.
This year’s haul included:
A package of fantastic ‘adventure stories’ greeting cards from the Friends of the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books at the Lillian H. Smith Library. [See image]. The Osborne Collection sells plenty of other wonderful swag, including pewter pins of those wonderful Griffins at the entrance to the Lillian H. Smith Library on College Street, as well as beautiful tote bags. I’ve also just noticed that anyone can become a Friend of the Osborne Collection for as little as $20 per year — which means you can bet I’ll be mailing off a cheque this coming week.
A complete set of Montreal Metro fridge magnets from the folks at Spacing Media. These are a very nice addition to the Toronto Transit buttons and magnets that Spacing’s been selling for years, and reflect the magazine’s new national orientation [P.S. look for a second ‘national’ issue of Spacing Magazine early next year!]
A very belated but greatly beloved two-year subscription to Taddle Creek Magazine, which, for $15, was one of the best deals of the whole day.
At the Taddle Creek booth I also bought two books of interest to Torontophiles.
The first is contributing Taddle Creek cartoonist Dave Lapp’s Drop-In (Conundrum Press, 2008), a collection of graphic stories about his work at art centres in Regent Park and the Eglinton West area. Given that these two districts and their inhabitants are woefully under-represented in the citry’s literature, it will be interesting seeing these communities through Lapp’s eyes. Here’s the Toronto Star’s review of Lapp’s book; the book, I note, was a finalist for the Doug Wright Award as well as the Ignatz Award. Lapp has a newer book out, too, called Children of the Atom (Conundrum, 2010).
The second is Jason Kieffer’s The Rabble of Downtown Toronto (Old Boot Comics, 2009), which offers a curious, decidely politically-incorrect portrait of marginalized street folk inhabiting Toronto’s downtown core. The book stirred up quite a bit of controversy when it was initially released; Kieffer includes links to some of these responses on his website. Journalist Ryan Bigge’s commentary on the book poses interesting questions about representation and appropriation, comparing Kieffer’s book to Martha Baillie’s Giller longlisted novel The Incident Report, which includes not altogether dissimilar portraits of marginalized Torontonians. It occurs to me, too, that Juan Buttler’s Cabbagetown Diary: A Documentary (Peter Martin, 1970) may be read in a similar light.
At the Coach House booth I bought Toronto New School of Writing co-Director and BookThug editor Jenny Samprisi’s just-released Croak. Looking forward to reading this, and suspect I’ll order a second copy for my frog-loving, literary mother.
From Guernica Editions I bought Desi Di Nardo’s deep ecology-influenced The Cure is a Forest (2011) and P.W. Powe’s faintly autibiographical The Unsaid Passing (2005). I would have bought more books, but it appears I already own much of Guerinca’s backlist, including titles by Gianna Patriarcha and Frank Paci, two of my favourite Italian Toronto writers (the other two, of course, being Corrado Paina and Pier Giorgio Di Cicco).
Speaking of Italians who write about Toronto, from Quattro Editions I bought Gianna Patriarcha’s My Etruscan Face (2007) and Giovanna Riccio’s Strong Bread (2011), both poetry collections continuing their authors’ projects about what it means to be Italian in Toronto.
Insomniac Press usually flogs selections from its backlist for absurdly low prices at Word on the Street, and this year — for a dollar each — I bought Ryan Kamstra’s Late Capitalist Sublime (2002), Natalee Caple’s The Heart is its Own Reason (1998) and Desire, High Heels, Red Wine (1995), featuring queer authors Timothy Archer, Sky Gilbert, Sonja Mills and Margaret Webb. For some reason I failed to buy Trillium Prize winner Jeff Latosik’s Tiny, Faster, Stronger (2010), an omission for which I have hopefully made amends by ordering it online directly from Insomniac.
At the Mansfield Press table I bought ex-Torontonian Stuart Ross’ Cobourg Variations (2011), babysat one of publisher Denis De Klerk’s affable twins, and signed copies of my own book — which flew off the table and sold out early in the afternoon. I also met a variety of authors, most of whose scribbled email addresses and business cards have, sadly, ended up torn to bits in the washing machine.
And then, after a perfect day, I biked home in the golden September sunshine and basked in books.