Another Story: The Rise of the Independent Book Store

Another Story: The Rise of the Independent Book Store

(Words and images by Brendan Adam Zwelling)

Lichtman’s, Albert Britnell Books, This Ain’t the Rosedale Library, Pages—the casualty list from the book retail wars is laden with fallen champions of the indie bookstore. So it was with that sad roll call in mind that the Canadian Booksellers Association’s Independents’ Day campaign, which aims to strengthen the link between communities and their independent book stores, touched down on Saturday at Another Story Bookshop on Roncesvalles.

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Wasn’t That a Party: The Coach House Fall 2010 Launch

Wasn’t That a Party: The Coach House Fall 2010 Launch

(Images by Brendan Adam Zwelling)

The joint was rocking at the Revival on College West Thursday night as Coach House Books launched its fall collection of poetry, fiction, and everything in between. The book site’s intrepid photographer, Brendan Adam Zwelling, was on hand to chronicle the literary mayhem.

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Sheila Heti Talks About How Should a Person Be?

Sheila Heti Talks About <em>How Should a Person Be?</em>

In How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti’s latest book, a character named Sheila Heti struggles to finish writing a play. This happened to the real Sheila Heti, who, like the character, grew up in Toronto, currently resides in the west end, and was commissioned to write a play for Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre, a project she eventually abandoned. Yes, the book’s main character is named Sheila, the crux of the story actually happened, and many of the people she encounters are real, but the book itself is not a memoir. Nor is it fictional. Instead, it exists in a space between, weaving together the real and the imagined, creating a new space of possibility, wherein fictional Sheila lives, tries to make art, and spends her time wondering just how should a person be.

The book sounds hard to read, but it’s not. It’s captivating and engaging. The characters are colorful and enjoyable. The situations Sheila finds herself in and the questions she asks of herself are universal. This book is not about finding purpose, in the sense that finding purpose is a quest that requires a mission, hardship, and a moment of epiphany. The story is embedded in real life: the mundanity of eating breakfast, the awkwardness of seeing a former partner, or the joy in discovering new art.

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Jillian Tamaki Uses Her Indoor Voice

Jillian Tamaki Uses Her <i>Indoor Voice</i>

Jillian Tamaki is a successful Canadian illustrator living in New York City whose work has won her such prestigious clients as Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. She is also the visual artist behind Skim, the acclaimed coming-of-age graphic novel she created with her cousin Mariko Tamaki (a successful author in her own right) and published by Groundwood Books.

The real strength of Skim is how writer Mariko’s authentic elliptical dialogue works so successfully with Jillian’s visual representation of unspoken body language and complex facial expressions. Both elements speak volumes about the characters’ inner worlds without needing to actually come out and say much. Still, I found myself marveling again and again at Jillian’s natural visual storytelling powers and her obvious skill for expressing the human form in the natural world. Take a look as some samples from the publisher’s website here—the drawings just pull you in while the panel layout effortlessly leads you along.

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It’s Time to Party Coach House Style

It’s Time to Party Coach House Style

The editors of Books@Torontoist know we’re not supposed to play favourites when it comes to Toronto-based presses, but it’s hard to not love Coach House Books. From their uTOpia book series to their Stroll City project, this is a publishing house that loves Toronto almost as much as we do. Besides, they know how to throw a really good party. And who doesn’t love a good party?

So when their tireless publicist Evan Munday sent us this list of 10 reasons why we should attend their shindig on Thursday, we knew we had to share it with you (full event details below).

10) The Utne Reader has singled out Coach House poet Gary Barwin: “Between the freaky, funny filmmaker Guy Maddin and author Gary Barwin, Canada is producing some of the most innovative creative works of our time.” You like innovative, creative things, right? You should hear him read from The Porcupinity of the Stars.

9) Like Bryan Adams, you too can relive the “Summer of ’69″ (even if, also like Bryan Adams, you were too young to experience it the first go-round) with Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s haunting yet hilarious coming-of-age novel, When Fenelon Falls.

8 ) Admission is free. We won’t even pass a hat around (though there may be some peer pressure to buy one of the books).

7) You can witness author Jonathan Ball read from his macabre collection of impossible plays, Clockfire, on recorded video! Totally not live! It will be just like when actors are filming on location and, so, can’t accept that very thoughtful Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Drama.

6) Not only can you pick up copies of the books at discount prices, you can also get them signed by the authors! Or, if you’d prefer, have them sign your eReader!

5) It’s an easy way to demonstrate to the mayoral candidates just how many people in Toronto support the arts.

4) Green Day drummer Tre Cool has been known to throw his drumsticks into the crowd. Author Jon Paul Fiorentino has been known to do the same with his books following his readings. Let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint with Indexical Elegies, his latest poetry collection. (It’s like catching a bouquet at a wedding. Whoever catches the book is the next person to be published.)

3) Gail Scott’s highly anticipated novel, The Obituary (launching that night), features a narrator whose voice is splintered into three: a politically correct historian, a woman on a bus (or sometimes in bed), and a *lascivious fly*! Haven’t you always wanted to hear the thoughts of a dirty-minded fly?

2) There is no longer such a thing as “Must-See TV” on Thursday nights, so you won’t be missing anything. But rumour has it that one Matthew Perry is a big fan of Gail Scott, so perhaps we’ll see an appearance by Chandler Bing

And finally…

1) Hang out with people for whom talking about kerning = major turn on.

On Thursday, October 14th, Coach House will be hosting their annual Fall Launch at Revival (783 College Street). Five authors get five minutes each to wow the crowd with their literary prowess. This year’s line-up includes Jonathan Ball’s Clockfire, Gary Barwin’s The Porcupinity of the Stars, Jon Paul Fiorentino’s Indexical Elegies, Dorothy Ellen Palmer’s When Fenelon Falls, and Gail Scott’s The Obituary.

We’ll be there. Come say hi.

Poems for Terry Sawchuk: An Interview with Randall Maggs

Poems for Terry Sawchuk: An Interview with Randall Maggs

With all the optimism and nostalgia evoked by the start of a new NHL season, it’s only natural, especially for Leafs fans, to look back with awe on the sepia-tinted titans who dominated the Original Six era. Few players from that era have so defined the image of the tough, all-Canadian player as the man many still believe to be the best goaltender of all time: Terry Sawchuk. Born in Winnipeg’s North End in 1929, Sawchuk was signed by the Detroit Red Wings at the age of 16 and went on to play 13 seasons with the team, helping them capture three Stanley Cups—all while battling depression and several severe injuries, including an untreated elbow injury that left one of his arms shorter than the other. After bouncing around the league for a couple of seasons in the early 1960s, Sawchuk joined the Maple Leafs and co-backstopped—along with Johnny Bower—the team to their almost miraculous Cup win in 1967.

Sawchuk won the Vezina Trophy three times and rewrote the record book several times during his troubled career, winning 501 games and amassing an amazing 103 regular-season shutouts (a record only surpassed by Martin Brodeur in 2009) before dying of injuries incurred in a fight with a teammate in 1970. Poet Randall Maggs, a native Winnipegger and student of the game who grew up adulating Sawchuk’s exploits, is the author of a cycle of poems devoted to Sawchuk the goalie and Sawchuk the man. Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems has been praised by poets, critics, sports writers, and hockey fans since its release, and to help inaugurate a new NHL season Maggs was kind enough to answer some questions for Torontoist.

Torontoist: When did your fascination with Terry Sawchuk begin?

Randall Maggs: My interest in Terry Sawchuk, the player, developed when I was a boy living in Winnipeg, Terry’s home town. In those days, that city was a paradise for young skaters and hockey players. There were so many active community clubs, each with its own outdoor rinks and closely followed age-group teams. As well, there were the celebrated players like Bathgate, Mosienko, and Mikosky who had gone on to play in the professional leagues. Pee Wee, Bantam, Juvenile, Junior, maybe a year in the AHL just to fine-tune your skills and wait for an opening in the NHL. There were only six teams in those days, six spots for goaltenders, so that was the imagined road to success in life for most young hockey players, which meant most young boys in those days. Walking backwards together against a frozen Prairie wind, we simply took for granted that was how our lives would happily unwind.

In my own generation, there was Peter Stemkowski, an eventual star with the Leafs and a star then with the Winnipeg Orioles, a team we seemed to always have to get past in order to go on the Provincial Championship. But none of those who did go on to play in those six eastern cities rose to the stature of Terry Sawchuk, one of the game’s legendary goaltenders. Something about that name just said hockey to us in the days of our youth. Still does, I’d say, for those who know the game of the old Six Team League. When our team ventured into Winnipeg’s North End, into communities like Elmwood and East Kildonan, we knew we were in Sawchuk country. When we cut behind the net and headed up the ice, we were making plays on where he had grown up and developed the style that would change goaltending forever.

My interest in Sawchuk, the man, came to me much later, long after I’d stopped playing the game seriously (if I ever really did), long after I had pretty much ceased even to pay much attention to the post-expansion NHL. My own brother went up with the Black Hawks in 1971 and my interest was renewed to some extent, but I was living in Montreal then, taking a creative writing course that was taught in part by Mordecai Richler, and my life had taken an entirely different direction.

Terry Sawchuk's iconic mask of scars.

Torontoist: When did you decide to take a stab at writing about Sawchuk?

RM: There was never a particular moment when I decided to write a cycle of poems based on Terry Sawchuk’s life. While I was in the midst of my research, I was also writing the poems, which simply flowed out of whatever I was thinking about at the time with little regard for any sense of order or overall plan. I spent a lot of time in the archives of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the National Research Centre, the CBC, and various newspapers and universities. Eventually I found most of the few surviving bits of film and recordings of interviews which featured Sawchuk. At York University, I found some undeveloped negatives from the 1967 Stanley Cup series which gave me the idea of using photographs with the poems.

I travelled a lot and talked to so many interesting people, which is mainly why there are so many voices in the book. I was struck by how many people had a Sawchuk story and how many seemed to have a puzzled and incomplete memory of how his life had ended so suddenly and tragically. I know that sometimes it’s not at first apparent who’s speaking in the book—that’s a result of the way in which all the voices bounced around in my head at the time. Terry’s life and death were complex. The stories I heard were to a high degree contradictory. I wanted some way in the structure and language to convey that complexity and confusion.

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The Devil Is in the Details: An Interview with Jenn Farrell

The Devil Is in the Details: An Interview with Jenn Farrell

Vancouver author Jenn Farrell’s second story collection, The Devil You Know, explores familiar themes of sex, love, birth, and death in decidedly unfamiliar ways, uncovering seams of darkness and light in unexpected places. She’s in town tonight for a tag-team reading at the Toronto Free Gallery (1277 Bloor Street West, 7 p.m., FREE) alongside Jessica Westhead, author of Pulpy and Midge.

Torontoist spoke with Farrell about bringing her latest collection from inception to the shelves of your local bookstore.

Torontoist: Give us your one-sentence pitch for the new book.

Jenn Farrell: The Devil You Know is this season’s cheeriest read, for those who savour sex, death, and terrible decisions.

Torontoist: How long have you been working on this book?

JF: Well, my first book, Sugar Bush & Other Stories, came out in 2006, so I suppose the “official” answer is four years. But to be honest, I slacked off for a while there. I’d say it’s been over two years of sustained effort.

Torontoist: Tell us a little about the editorial process. Did anything surprise you about the process?

JF: I love the editorial process, but the big surprise was having a major falling-out with someone with whom I’d been working in an editorial capacity. Luckily, my loving husband stepped in as my “first reader.” He’s very good, but he has a strong sense of self-preservation and therefore doesn’t usually edit his wife. Brian Kaufman (my editor and the publisher of Anvil Press) and I get along famously and he really helped me refine the stories and identified the things I couldn’t figure out when a piece just wasn’t quite “there.”

Torontoist: How did it feel when the final galleys arrived at your door?

JF: At that point I was just fretting about the proofreading: was there a huge error that all of us missed? Was “public” misspelled as “pubic” somewhere? Was my name spelled correctly on the cover? Luckily, I had a terrific summer student working with me, and she caught the last few little typos (I think). Thanks, Larissa!

Torontoist: Were you tempted to make major changes to the manuscript at this late stage in the game?

JF: I don’t know any writers who are ever 100 percent satisfied with the finished product. I could always work with one more edit, one more week, one more read-through, but eventually I just let it go and get on with the next thing. That said, I’m really pleased with this book. Chuffed, even.

Torontoist: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?

JF: Oh golly, if I start thinking about regrets, I’ll just go fetal. Sure, there are always things I might have done better, but who cares? I didn’t do them at the time, so that’s that.

Torontoist: What do you think of the cover? How involved were you with the cover process?

JF: Hot damn, how about that cover, hey? The fine folks over at Anvil Press indulge me like the spoiled brat I am, so I was very involved with the cover. The art is by Katie Pretti, a Toronto-based artist, whose work is amazing and beautiful. I got in touch with her and asked if we could use one of her pieces for the book, and she’s been unbelievably gracious about the whole thing. I’ll get to meet her in person for the first time at the launch!

Torontoist: What do you hope to achieve with this book?

JF: Um, how about the Giller? Nah, I just want people to read it and enjoy it. I write for regular folks—I don’t have a lot of high-falutin’ ideas about literature. In my work, at readings, I’m just trying to give people value for money. Sounds like I’m trying to sell a used car, doesn’t it?

Torontoist: Are you working on anything new yet?

JF: Sheesh, no pressure! Actually, I do have something that I’ve just started, but I have no idea what it’s going to become. I can’t really talk about work in progress—it seems to let all the juice out of it before I’ve even begun. It’s kind of about adoption—but that’s all you’re getting out of me.

East Meets West: A Traveling Poetry Road Show

East Meets West: A Traveling Poetry Road Show

(From left: Damian Rogers, Ibi Kaslik, Ariel Gordon. Photos courtesy of Ibi Kaslik.)

The Holy Oak Cafe (1241 Bloor Street West) is the scene of a very special reading tonight that will see a pair of local poets sharing the stage with two Prairie comrades in verse. Toronto’s own Melanie Janisse and Damian Rogers represent the home side, while Winnipeger Ariel Gordon and Saskatchewan Tracy Hamon bring the western vibe. Novelist Ibi Kaslik, whose done her share of cross-country traveling, will be hosting the event and has promised to wow the crowd with her knowledge of all things geographical.

Torontoist spoke with Kaslik about the reading (full event details below).

Torontoist: How did the reading come together. Do all of you know each other?

Ibi Kaslik: When I was writer in residence at the RPL (Regina Public Library) the writers there welcomed me very fondly so I thought I would try to return the favour. My friend, the poet Tracy Hamon, said she wanted to do a reading in TO, as she and Ariel Gordon were coming out here, but they needed help with contacts, organization etc. so I decided to enlist Melanie and Damian, also poets, and do a group reading. Thus the East Meets West idea. Damian, Mel, and I are all pals and Tracy and I spent time together when I lived in Saskatchewan but Ariel is unknown to all.

Torontoist: Is there an “official theme” for the reading?

IK: Tracy is from Regina, Ariel is from Manitoba, and Damian and Mel are Detroit ex-pats living in this soon-to-become Tom Ford nightmare, and since I am a history nerd I’m going to riff on the history of all four places: there will be questionnaires, with prizes about Toronto, Detroit, Regina, and maybe even Winnipeg. So the theme is bringing together all these different North American poets, and an entertaining history lesson vis-a-vis yours truly.

Torontoist: Much is made these days about the global village and the impact of borderless technologies on local culture. How much of a role does an author’s home (and/or native) “region” play in their work? Can someone still be a “prairie” or “Atlantic” author these days?

IK: I think so, especially in Canada. Having lived in the Canadian midwest I found time moved differently there and I could already feel its impact upon my personality and work. Poets especially are sensitive to these inner and outer landscapes: people talk about different things, are surrounded by a different history and environment, and Iphones can’t change that. I’m not saying everyone writes about wheat and tractors (although some people do), but there is a meditative quality and essence to the work that is distinct. As for Atlantic writers, you can see it in writers like Lynn Coady and even a writer like Michael Winter, though he lives here, there is a sense of humour that is uniquely East Coast, a colloquialism and playfulness that jaded Toronto writers lack.

Torontoist: Are there plans for similar readings in the future?

IK: If this goes well, I am thinking about doing an East Meets West series, yes. Maybe bringing over a East or West Coast writer and pairing them up with locals. It could help us in our fight against the Toronto-is-the Centre-of the-Universe stigma. Maybe.

(Ibi Kaslik hosts poets Melanie Janisse, Damian Rogers, Ariel Gordon, and Tracy Hamon tonight at the Holy Oak Cafe (1241 Bloor Street West), from 7-9:00 p.m., FREE.)

Jung and Restless: An Interview with Micah Toub

Jung and Restless: An Interview with Micah Toub

(Photo by Lisan Jutras)

We all carry lessons, warm memories, and emotional baggage from our childhood but Toronto author Micah Toub is almost unique in having borne such a heavily footnoted and esoteric psychological cargo into adulthood. That’s because Toub’s parents are both practicing Jungian psychologists who shared their passion for the Swiss psychiatrist and visionary with their growing son from the time he could speak.

Toub has written about his formative relationship with all things Jungian in a new memoir called Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age As the Son of Two Shrinks, recently published by Doubleday Canada. He will be reading from the memoir at Type Books’ Forest Hill branch (427 Spadina Road) on Thursday, October 7 at 7 p.m. (FREE) and he recently took time to speak to Torontoist about his book.

Torontoist: How old were you when you realized what your parents did for a living? What was your reaction?

Micah Toub: I knew from a very young age that my parents somehow traded in dreams, based on the fact that they would ask me lots of questions about my dreams and would have me draw comic strips of them. The first dream I remember telling my dad was when I was four, though I made that one up because I was aware this would impress him. When I was seven, during my turn as “First grader of the week,” when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a psychologist. I remember my teacher’s expression very clearly when I said that—a mix of horror and confusion. (We lived in a very conservative suburb in Colorado.) If you’d asked me what a psychologist did at that age I would have said, “They help people solve their problems.”

Torontoist: How much was Jung, and his ideas, discussed in the house?

MT: I know that Jung or psychology in general was discussed often, sometimes at dinner. With one parent as a psychologist, this might happen a little bit, but with two of them bouncing ideas off each other, the effect was more than double. There were of course vast stretches of my childhood that were “normal,” but times like when my father explained Synchronicity—the idea that the mind can affect the world and vice versa—to me while we were playing basketball or when my mother told me over breakfast that I had been visited by an Ally—a shamanic spirit guide—in a nightmare definitely stand out in my memory! There was a certain magical quality to the Jungian discussions, which was hugely appealing to me as a child and which continued to be appealing on a more intellectual level into my adolescence.

Torontoist: When did you start writing your memoir?

MT: It was in 2004. I’d had the idea in the back of my head for a while. Then one day, I was on assignment to write a profile of an author and through some mix-up she failed to show up for the interview. I had been so anxious beforehand and had diligently prepared for days, so when I was stood up I decided in my frustration that I was going to finally just do what I really wanted to do and work on my own book. I headed to the Toronto Reference Library right then and began writing the memoir, pulling piles of Freud and Jung books from the shelves. On my way home that day, the Church of the Redeemer on Bloor had a quote from Joseph Campbell on its sign that said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Campbell was a huge fan of Jung and I thought my father would get a kick out of that Synchronicity.

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French Comics Artist Lewis Trondheim in Toronto

French Comics Artist Lewis Trondheim in Toronto

Photo by Kimberley Whitchurch

French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim may be one of the most respected and prolific cartoonists on the planet, but he’s got a way of making it seem like no big deal. His recent lecture and drawing demo held a crowd of fans and comickers rapt at Innis Town Hall, as a huge overhead projection zeroed in on his hands as they created a page destined for the next volume of Trondheim’s autobiographical vignettes, les petits riens (translated into English as Little Nothings). With simultaneous English translation provided by Nathalie Atkinson of the National Post and Peter Birkemoe of The Beguiling, Trondheim chatted in French and took questions from the audience as he worked. Starting with just a jotted note on a Post-it, a sketchbook, a felt-tip fineliner marker, and a tiny travel-sized water colour set—plus the occasional peek at reference photos of a Montpellier café on his iphone—it took the artist less than 90 minutes to finish a fully inked, lettered, and coloured page.

One fan asked why he didn’t start his pages with a pencil sketch before inking.

“Because I’m lazy,” he quipped.

Really? The truth is this: Trondheim has a huge bibliography of published works, including two well-loved major series (Les formidables aventures de Lapinot and Donjon) spanning a 20-year career, he’s been translated into dozens of languages, and he’s worked as a script supervisor for more than one animated series based on his books. In 1990 he was one of six co-founders of the artist-driven press L’Association, which publishes a star-studded roster of independent French comics and graphic novels. He was made a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in 2005 and won the Grand Prix at Angoulême in 2006—the French equivalent of being knighted one year and then winning an Oscar (TM) the next. He wrote the libretto for the opera “Affaire étrangère,” which was staged in Monpellier in 2009, and his webcomic “Bludzee” delights in 19 different languages.

Not bad for a guy who claims to be lazy.

Torontoist illustrator Brian McLachlan was also at the September 26 lecture at Innis and stayed for the book signing, where he saw possibly the best author trick ever: “In the last page of a Donjon book,” McLachlan says, “Trondheim drew Marvin preforming his trademark ‘tong deum’ flame burst. The dragon character was sketched in with ink, spewing fire from the inside top corner diagonally to the outside right. Then Trondheim used a lighter to actually light that bottom corner on fire. The flames climbed up the page slowly. He clapped the hardcover shut with a flourish of wind and ash. When he reopened it, it looked like Marvin’s fire had singed away a large section of the page. I bet magicians don’t sign their autographs half as cool.”

The lecture and demo was the first of two public events for Trondheim in Toronto, the second being a swanky vernissage on September 29 at Alliance Française. On view were the 26 original paintings produced during his 11-day residency here, which was sponsored by both AF and the French Consulate and supported by The Beguiling.

Each of the 9 x 12 ink and watercolour illustrations shows an exquisitely graphic slice of Toronto, illuminating a visitor’s curious and affectionate take on corporate and vintage architectural landmarks, iconic views of GO trains and TTC-related scenes, skylines, and signage. The illustrations’ simplicity is deceiving: each one is actually a small masterwork of draughtsmanship, with a laser-focused eye for composition and detailing. The casual but perfect control of technique and media bears witness to an artist working at the height of his powers. Even so, it’s an impressive feat of time management to output this large a body of work in such a short time frame and have it all look so polished.

Floating in black shadow boxes, the unmatted works speak for themselves: no prices (they’re not for sale) and no titles, except for one. Somebody asked Trondheim if he could see Lake Ontario from his hotel. In response, he painted the view from his window: a forbidding industrial landscape, with a tiny slice of blue just visible between two buildings. Its title? Lac Ontario.

While the show was originally scheduled to be up at Alliance Française for the month, the last day for viewing was Tuesday October 5. The entire show will shortly be appearing on Lewis Trondheim’s personal website at www.lewistrondheim.com.

—Kimberley Whitchurch (Thanks to Dave Howard, Peter Birkamoe, and Patricia Guérin for assistance in producing this article.)