A year in reading

It should come as no surprise that staff here at Authors at Harbourfront Centre love a good read. So we’ve put together a list of our favourite books from 2012 for your holiday reading pleasure—or for the bookworm on your shopping list. Many were written by authors we had the pleasure of meeting during the International Festival of Authors this October, but others are books we just happened to read this year, including a sci-fi throwback from 1971.

Thornell, Night StreetKristel Thornell’s Night Street

Who would have thought a story about an Australian woman painter (Clarice Beckett) at the turn of the last century could be a page-turner? It was wonderfully written and I had trouble putting it down each evening to go to bed. I’ve never been to Australia, knew nothing about this painter, but found myself completely immersed in the story while walking in Clarice’s shoes.
—  Gwen Hoover

Lee, BobcatRebecca Lee’s Bobcat and Other Stories

This collection changed my sense of what a short story can do. By presenting believable characters in slightly surreal scenarios and settings, her language sparkling with ethereal metaphors involving starfish, spacemen and jewellery, Lee reminds us that fiction can be a lot like a dream. I’ve recommended this book to several people, and they’ve all loved it.
— Nicole Baute

Liam CarCard, Exit Papers From Paradised’s Exit Papers from Paradise

Every once in a while you read a book that you can’t put down. A book with a character so well developed, one with whom you sympathize and cheer for. A book that makes you feel, that makes you laugh out loud on a busy subway and even tear up a little. A book that makes you think, that makes you reflect on your own life and that warms your heart. A book that you would recommend to everyone, because we’ve all found ourselves in a rut at some point. This is that book.
— Tina Kessler

Goldstein, I'll Seize the Day TomorrowJonathan Goldstein’s I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow

If you want to read something witty and extremely funny without necessarily following a chronological order of chapters, just pick any page from I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow. I once laughed frenetically out loud on my seat and while I was looking for a tissue to dry my tears, finally realizing that I was in a bus with people looking at me.
— David Gressot

Rachel Dewoskin’s Big Girl Smallbig girl small

You’re pulled into the world of the narrator, 16-year-old Judy, with whom you want to cry when she gets led astray by her high school crush and laugh when she’s at her most sarcastic—but ultimately who you remember being when you were a teenage girl trying to figure it all out yourself. This was a book I read early in the year but it stayed with me for its realistic twist and for the story of friendship embedded throughout the novel—plus, I always like a good underdog story.
— Jennifer Asselin

Philip José Farmer‘s To Your Scattered Bodies Go To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The story begins with every human in history being brought back to life in youthful bodies, scattered along the banks of a mysterious river world. I found myself engrossed in the tale and almost read the entire book in an evening.
— Eric Mannell

And from our Artistic Associate Jen Tindall, who can’t choose just one:

The book that impressed me most this year was Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat and Other Stories. Her stories took me from this place to her places without me realizing until after I finished. Other notables: Embassytown by China Miéville squeezed my brain waves as I read it, sometimes painfully, but it was a wonderfully weird experience. Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station was a poetic and funny book about art and coming of age in Spain, and with This is How You Lose Her Junot Díaz was on top of his game, so honest and brutal that it made me never want to date again.
— Jen Tindall

Happy holiday reading from all of us!

The many faces of IFOA

How quiet the office seems now, a few weeks post-IFOA—such a contrast from the blur of famous faces and inspiring conversations. The Festival was a huge success thanks to the authors and their publishers, the hardworking staff and volunteers, our partners and sponsors and, of course, all of the book lovers who came down to the Harbourfront Centre to soak it all in.

We’re still sifting through the photos taken during the Festival, but in the meantime here are a few.

[slideshow]

Thanks also to our fabulous bloggers and everyone who followed the Festival from afar! We’re on to planning IFOA 2013…

– Nicole

Miéville & Doctorow: from Dungeons and Dragons to politics and writing

By Corina Milic

The night started with a few bad jokes and ended with a debate on human nature (consensus: good, though invariably more time was spent talking about the evil).

The Lakeside Terrace was packed for a joint reading and interview with Cory Doctorow (The Rapture of the Nerds) and China Miéville (Embassytown). The SPACE channel’s Mark Askwith hosted.

The authors are similar in some essential ways: both live in London, and both approach science fiction quite politically.

Doctorow read from his new novel Pirate Cinema and reminisced about growing up in Toronto: “I played Dungeons and Dragons here [Harbourfront Centre] on alternating Saturdays for most of the 1980s.” He credits the city, with sci-fi institutions like Bakka Phoenix book store and the Judith Merril Library, for his pursuit of genre fiction.

Cory Doctorow and China Miéville in conversation with Mark Askwith at IFOA 2012 (c) readings.org

Cory Doctorow and China Miéville in conversation with Mark Askwith at IFOA 2012 (c) readings.org

Miéville, who treated fans to an unpublished short story reading, said that he simply never grew out of his fantastical childhood imagination. “As a writer I can sustain almost nothing that doesn’t have a fantastic element.”

To say the conversation was far reaching is an understatement. The authors talked about everything from copyright laws (Doctorow’s activism centres largely around the issue) to blog anxiety to waterboarding to Hurrican Katrina and Cormac McCarthy. They even threw in a requisite trekkie reference.

It is impossible to synthesize Doctorow’s jaw-dropping on-the-spot metaphors or Miéville’s eloquent arguments (both full of rather large words this blogger was ill-equipped to successfully transcribe). Instead, here are some of the highlights:

Miéville, on structuring his novels: “My books are very planned, in part because I’m very neurotic. The idea of starting a book without knowing where you’re going, oooo, hives!”

Doctorow, on good writing advice: “’Write everyday’ crops up as writing advice all the time. What was revelatory to me was that when I did this, writing every day, I saw in hindsight that the days I felt the words were good and the days I thought they were bad were actually indistinguishable.”

Doctorow, on why he blogs his daily writing: “If I don’t put [the words] out for public consumption, I cheat myself. I won’t do it.”

Miéville, on the relationship between his politics and his writing: “I have been an active socialist since I was 18. I see the world politically, but I also see the world as a D and D* geek. Anything I write involves political issues. It’s not like separate boxes in my head.”

Miéville, on the idea of crisis: “In a very banal way crisis is aesthetically interesting, but it’s not an aesthetic indulgence. Things really are fucked. I’m not a pessimist. One of the great blunders is [believing] that people are horrible.”

Doctorow, on writing young adult novels: “YA protagonists do a very brave thing all the time. They do a lot of things for the first time without knowing how these things will change them. It makes them really exciting to write about.”

Miéville, on writing young adult novels: “What he said.”

*Dungeons and Dragons

Learn more about Milic’s attempts to read every book in her home on her blog. Visit readings.org for more IFOA events.

Miéville & Toews: fiction as a living thing

By Vikki VanSickle

Last night’s event, part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference at IFOA, featured two very different speakers covering two very different topics.

From England, award-winning fantasy and science fiction writer China Miéville postulating on the future of the novel, and from Canada, literary darling Miriam Toews dissecting the idea of a national literature. Thanks to moderator Rachel Giese who drew clear parallels between these two very different keynote addresses and lead the audience in a rich discussion.

I made it, it’s mine.

Miéville is a commanding speaker who delighted the audience with wry and at times critical observations of the literati and an imaginative and open view of the future. He spoke passionately about the demise of authorial authority, envisioning a future where “guerilla editors” get their hands on texts and edit, embellish, and “re-mix” content. Texts will no longer be “closed” in an era of digitally distributed texts. We need to change our perspective and put the book ahead of the author. Once authors can get over the fact that they aren’t special, they are workers like anyone else, it will allow the focus to be on the book.

China Miéville at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

The crowd rallied behind Miéville’s vision of the future in which writers receive a salary, a somewhat far-fetched idea that would require the toppling of current political and economic systems—but one can dream, right?

Miéville’s address was a perfect example of how content can be re-mixed, as it was based on a speech given earlier this year, with some alterations based on the discussion it generated. Talk about metafiction! You can check out his original keynote address here.

Serve your nation by serving your story.

Miriam Toews is a warm and endearing speaker who wears her heart on her sleeve. Toews spoke candidly about the odd position she has found herself in as a sort of expert in Mennonite culture; a position that has been imposed by others due to her background and content in some of her work. She talked about being both criticized and praised by the Mennonite community, and how this also typifies the demands of a so-called national literature. Communities demand allegiance; they expect their members to “reinforce certain pre-approved narratives.”

Miriam Toews at IFOA 2012 © readings.org

Toews believes this is the crux of the problem with a national literature—that it demands obligation and confines the writer to ideals that may not exist.  Ideas of national identity belong to the past, and any attempt to construct an identity will be outdated by the time the reader comes to it.

If the writer has any job at all, Toews said, it is only to serve the story. By serving the story the writer is ultimately serving her nation.

Some thoughts to take away. Toews described fictional stories as “a secular bible of a community,” which struck me as a sage observation. Think of this year’s Canada Reads format, in which people are asked to vote for books that represent a region and then one book will be chosen out of these books that ultimately represents Canada. Celebrating regionalism only to pit the regions against each other seems contradictory. I’d be curious to know what Toews take on this format is.

Both Miéville and Toews spoke about the book as living thing, and how interpretations are as varied as the individuals who read the book. Being surprised by a reader’s take on a character or receiving fan art work or fan fiction exemplify ways in which a book “lives.” An audience member asked, “But what if they get it wrong?” Both Toews and Miéville insist that there is no such thing as a wrong interpretation, and just because an author created a work does not make them the ultimate authority.

Some heady discussion and lots to ponder! Looking forward to Saturday’s double bill!

This event was part of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, in partnership with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council.

Follow VanSickle on her blog, pipedreaming, or on Twitter @vikkivansickle.

Five questions with… novelist Corey Redekop

© Judd Dowhy

Corey Redekop will be at IFOA to share Husk, a novel about a struggling actor turned zombie.

IFOA: Who are you most excited to see at the Festival, and why?

Redekop: Aside from all the authors I “know” through Facebook and Twitter but haven’t yet met in person, there’s one individual I’m truly excited about (two if you count Cory Doctorow, but as we’re in the same event, I’ll just assume we’ll actually shake hands). I’m not sure if I’ll get to see him because of scheduling, but I do hope I’ll get chance to see and maybe meet China Miéville. Right now, pound for pound, Miéville’s one of the best fantasy writers on the planet, one of those rare writers able to infuse fantastical scenarios with absolutely believable characters (others being Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker). His prose is second to none, and The City and the City is one of the best fantasy thriller novels I’ve read this millennium. At heart, I am a huge geek, and while it bugs me that I’m actually older than many of the authors I geek out over, I’ll probably shriek with glee if I meet him.

IFOA: What are you reading right now?

Redekop: I typically read a few books at a time, my version of channel surfing, I suppose. I just completed Michael Tregebov’s very funny Jewish comedy The Shiva and Emily Schultz’s just so damned good The Blondes. I’m currently devouring Gemma Files’ A Tree of Bones, a great wrap-up to her Hexslinger trilogy, and I’m quite enjoying John Scalzi’s comic fantasy An Agent to the Stars. On deck, I’ve got Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, Heather Jessup’s The Lightning Field, and Mark A. Rayner’s The Fridgularity.

IFOA: What’s the coolest thing about being a zombie?

Redekop: Well, you don’t need sleep, so you get a lot of work done. By “work,” I mean rampant cannibalism, but it is work, especially when your lunch refuses to sit still. Also cool? You can easily win any “how long can you hold your breath?” contests.

IFOA: We’ve heard you’ll be here for your birthday. What do you usually do on your birthday?

Redekop: Normally, I take the day off work and lounge about the house in a bathrobe or, sometimes, completely naked. Should make for an interesting round table. IFOA is a clothing optional festival, right?

IFOA: Finish this sentence: The Internet is…

Redekop: A massive timesuck, made of cats, a warning sign of the dumbing down of the world, and the greatest thing ever made.

IFOA: Bonus question: This year’s International Festival of Authors in one word…

Redekop: Eclectic.

Redekop will participate in two IFOA events: an October 25 reading and a round table called Zombies, Witches, Killers and Cowboys: Visions of the Future of the Novel on October 27.