The Event: David Mitchell at IFOA

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“The novel is a big, baggy, glorious, inchoate, inexact form.”
– David Mitchell, September 20th, 2014

For the packed house at the International Festival of Authors yesterday, David Mitchell needed no introduction. Globe & Mail Arts Editor Jared Bland teased, “He was ranked among the top 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2007. . . So I guess he’s getting less and less influential.”  He described David’s new book, The Bone Clocks, as a “hypnotic Rubik’s Cube of a novel.” When he read his introduction to David before the event, he told us, the author said whoever wrote that “had had too many metaphors on their Corn Flakes this morning.”

An afternoon with David Mitchell promises to be just as sprawling, intelligent, and funny as one of his novels. David began with a reading from The Bone Clocks, “this monster I’ve unleashed onto the world.” He set the scene for his excerpt, asking us to imagine him as a mid-30s foreign war correspondent. It’s 2004. He’s just discovered that his four-year-old daughter is missing: “And this is what happens next.” Ed stumbles through a fan convention filled with Darth Vaders and and Harry Potters to get outside, racing toward a boardwalk psychic Aoife had demanded to visit earlier. The horror of his lost daughter is juxtaposed against the cheery chaos of Brighton Pier.

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The Event: Emma Healey, Linda Holeman, and Tom Rachman at IFOA

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“It’s really lovely when a character comes into you.”
– Linda Holeman, June 24th, 2014

Nothing can make a cold slog through a downpour more appealing than the thought of three wonderful authors waiting for you in the Brigantine Room at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. Made cozy with candlelit bistro tables instead of row seating, IFOA offers an intimate setting to get to know the authors and their works better. Hosted by Becky Toyne of Open Book Toronto and CBC Radio, the program featured three very different writers: Emma Healey (Elizabeth is Missing), Linda Holeman (The Devil on her Tongue), and Tom Rachman (The Rise & Fall of Great Powers).

Emma Healey began with a reading from her debut novel Elizabeth is Missing, an offbeat mystery told from the first person point of view of an elderly dementia patient. Maud is in her eighties and has a difficult time remembering things moment to moment in her present, relying heavily on Post-It notes. She knows for a fact that her friend Elizabeth has gone missing, but no one will take her seriously. Maud’s search for Elizabeth becomes mixed up with her much more cogent memories of her youth just after World War II, when her sister Sukie went missing. Emma is a lovely reader, soft voiced and passionate. The excerpt she read followed Maud to the police station to report Elizabeth’s disappearance, and showcased not only the frustration of living with a disease that destroys one’s memories, but also Maud’s unrelenting humour in the face of her situation. Emma segued into one of Maud’s remembrances of the search for Sukie, and when she finished, she smiled shyly, inviting applause.

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The Event: A Literary Walk along Queen Street with Russell Smith at Luminato

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To wrap up the literary portion of this year’s arts celebration, the Luminato Festival offered up a “day of literary intensity” on Sunday, June 15th. Trinity Bellwoods, the iconic downtown park, played host to A Literary Picnic, which featured a theme of “Toronto, the Unseen.” More than 45 writers took to several stages, and a bookmobile, an Author Confessional Booth for deep, dark reader secrets, and many food trucks spread through the park on the perfect, sunny Sunday afternoon. And three Literary Walks took intrepid readers through different parts of Toronto. Alissa York, author of Fauna, led a group through the Don Valley, Carey Fagan and his explorers tackled Kensington Market, and Russell Smith brought some of us along to chat about his vision of Queen Street West.

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The Event: Toews, O’Neill, Gabriele, Renzetti #ReadWomen2014 at Luminato

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The Luminato Festival has always had strong visual and performing arts components. This year also features a more robust literary program, celebrating the art of the written word. On June 11th, 2014, the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon hosted a unique round-table event: #ReadWomen2014 Luminato.

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The #ReadWomen2014 hashtag for Twitter was created by author and illustrator Joanna Walsh as a year-long celebration of women writers. The parameters are flexible as readers shape what exactly #ReadWomen2014 means to them. The hashtag has been promoted by bookstores, publishing houses, literary critics, and readers. Issues have ranged from the Vida count and CWILA count to the “girly” covers for books that happen to be written by women (See Maureen Johnson’s coverflip challenge from last year), celebrations of women writers’ awards, and recommendations of women writers’ works. Luminato has joined the discussion with its #ReadWomen2014 panel, featuring Lisa Gabriele (The S.E.C.R.E.T. trilogy as L. Marie Adeline), Heather O’Neill (The Girl who was Saturday Night), Elizabeth Renzetti (Based on a True Story), and Miriam Toews (All My Puny Sorrows). A mix of readings, round-table discussions about writing and motivation, and Q&A, the evening was moderated by Luminato’s Literary & Ideas Curator Noah Richler. “So why gather these four great novelists?” Richler asked. “If only for the company!”

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The Event: Literary Luminato 2014

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If there’s one thing Toronto loves, it’s a big festival. If it’s about the arts and outdoors, so much the better. Nuit Blanche, The International Festival of Authors, Caribbean Carnival, Word on the Street, Pride, the Toronto International Film Festival, Buskerfest…Food-driven, music-fuelled, culture-obsessed…we love to celebrate. And we’re about to have a big, diverse, mind-bending party. If you can’t make it, you can follow the fun on my blog this week.

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The Event: A Tribute to Alice Munro at IFOA 2013

Alice reading Alice, © Getty Images
Alice reading Alice, © Getty Images

On the evening of November 2nd, 2013, a sold-out crowd at the International Festival of Authors rose in a standing ovation at the urging of editor extraordinaire Douglas Gibson, who asked us to “hoot, and holler, and clap our hearts out” so that Alice Munro could hear us all the way in Victoria, BC, where she’s wintering with her daughter. The Fleck Dance Theatre was packed to the rafters, and we were all on our feet, shouting out our love and admiration for the divine Ms. Munro.

Alice Munro has been a quiet giant of the Canadian and international literary landscape for decades, publishing short fiction that reverberates with authenticity about lives, journeys, small towns, and the roles women play. On August 1st (two months before Ms. Munro became the first Canadian ever to win the Nobel Prize for literature), IFOA announced a tribute to her, a “‘who’s-who’ of Canada’s literary community, including other writers, close colleagues and family members, as they present readings of Munro’s work.”  From newer works such as Dear Life and Too Much Happiness to canonical classics Lives of Girls and Women and Runaway, Ms. Munro’s short stories have been a touchstone and a revelation to me—and to many others. The promised who’s-who brought a thrilling mix of authors to the stage: joining host Gibson was Jane Urquhart, Miriam Toews, Colum McCann, Alistair MacLeod, and Margaret Drabble.

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The Event: Gordon Korman at IFOA 2013

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When I think about the authors who shaped my formative years, one of the biggest in my pantheon is Gordon Korman, who wrote his first book, This Can’t be Happening at MacDonald Hall, when he was 12 years old. Thirty-five years after MacDonald Hall was published (when Korman was 14), I got the chance to see him in person at the International Festival of Authors. The first in a series of books featuring troublemaking good guys Bruno & Boots, MacDonald Hall was just one of my many go-tos for bookish comedy. Go Jump in the Pool, The Twinkie Squad, Who is Bugs Potter?, and No Coins, Please,  as well as my personal, all-time favourite I Want to Go Home, exemplify the kind of laugh-out-loud, clever, slapstick humour that Korman is known for. His extraordinary heroes got into all kinds of hilarious, super-fun trouble just trying to navigate their ordinary worlds.

Korman is the author of more than 75 books. The beloved titles I read in the 80s and early 90s led him to write books about the Titanic (Unsinkable, Collision Course, and S.O.S.), heist novels involving canines (the Swindle series), and participation in the wildly popular 39 Clues series with other middle grade heavyweights including Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame.

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