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.

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

– Nicole

Five Questions with… Arno Kopecky

Don’t miss Arno Kopecky at IFOA in the Ben McNally Travellers Series on Sunday, October 21.

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

Kopecky: Junot Diaz – the pulchritude! Maybe John Ralston Saul.

IFOA: You’ve just written, sold, edited, published and launched your first book. What’s been the biggest surprise along the way?

Kopecky: That I still can’t levitate.

IFOA: You’re a world traveller. Where do you plan to go next?

Kopecky: Was going to try Pluto, but I’m not sure it’s still considered a world or just a frozen ball of gas.

IFOA: Tell us about one book that changed your life.

Kopecky: Voltaire’s Bastards, by John Ralston Saul. It opened my eyes to a lot of things, not least the tyranny of reason and the troubling historical lesson (for democracy) offered by the citizens of Renaissance Paris, who had to be forced against their will to exchange open sewers for indoor plumbing.

But the book’s greatest impact on my life happened after I gave it to my dad to read. He, a conservative Iowan corn farmer by birth and a professor of chemistry by training, i.e. a reserved man all his life, began displaying radical tendencies of the left wing persuasion. He wrapped his arm in a black bandana before going to parties, for instance, to represent the dead in Iraq. His behavior eventually got him excommunicated from the farm of his brother (a Republican), and it took years of back-door diplomacy to bring the family together again.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: It helps if you…

Kopecky:…can swim.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Kopecky: Novel.

Junot Díaz & Michael Chabon bring humour and literary insight to IFOA stage

By Iain Reid

© readings.org

A full 20 minutes before Junot Díaz and Michael Chabon take the stage at the Fleck Dance Theatre, a chatty crowd has formed outside. It’s a sell out.

The evening’s moderator, Siri Agrell, welcomes the audience, joking about the possibility, depending on seating arrangement, of being the insides of a “Pulitzer sandwich.”

Chabon reads first. He explains how pleased he is to be included in an event with one of his favourite writers, saying, “I thought he was awesome before you guys did.”

Díaz stands slightly to the right of the podium, shielding his eyes from the overhead lights to get a better look at the crowd. He calls reading with Chabon, “a profound honour.”

Their mutual respect and admiration seems genuine. They appear comfortable together. Along with both authors and Agrell’s inclusion of humour (handfuls of hilarious one-liners that at times border on stand-up) the discussion touches on a variety of more contemplative topics. Chabon and Díaz express their strategic concerns when starting a new work and how it’s essentially a kind of “world building” while creating the proper language.

Also discussed is the practice of writing from the perspective of a different gender or race; its challenges and its potential worth. “Artists aren’t boosters,” says Díaz.

Chabon explains how our desire for strict originality is a relatively new cultural emphasis. Both authors agree a writer is foremost a reader and that it would be impossible to write anything good without attribution. All writers have debts.

12 Junot Diaz and Michael Chabon interview IFOA (c) readings.org

© readings.org

Appropriately, during the Q&A someone asks Díaz about the feeling when reading a perfectly constructed sentence. Díaz acknowledges this feeling and references The English Patient, and a single sentence that has stayed with him since his first reading of the novel. Another audience member calls out that Michael Ondaatje is in the crowd. It’s another moment of a writer expressing sincere gratitude to another. “Well, it’s an honour he’s here,” says Díaz. A fitting end to an excellent evening of readings, insights and discussion.

Visit readings.org for more event listings. Follow Iain Reid on twitter at @reid_iain.