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 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.

I Want to Go Home

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Hypnotists

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The Event: Michael Chabon and Junot Díaz at IFOA 2012

Junot Diaz, about to shake my hand. All photographs by Alexander Hoffman.

The International Festival of Authors couldn’t have picked a better duo for one of their opening events: Junot Díaz (This is how You Lose Her, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union), talking about their books, the nature of fiction, the problems of modern book criticism (or lack thereof), writing women, writing race, the awesomeness of Michael Ondaatje, and the double standard in genre fiction. They also read from their books, took audience questions, and were terribly funny and swore a lot. As you might guess, it was a hell of a good 90-minute session.

“Are you ready for some literature?” asked moderator Siri Agrell, author and columnist who was hilarious in her own right and held her own against her formidable guests. The sold out crowd most certainly was. The opening night buzz was palpable (made even cooler for my friend and I by a heated debate about whether the gentleman waiting in line in front of us was Michael Ondaatje. It was. I’d expect him to get his own IFOA throne or something, but he queued along with us normal folk to go and see a lit event. So cool!)

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The Event: Will Ferguson (the Amusing) and the Translators (the Awkward) at IFOA 2011

“Pierre Burton showed me a Canada that was worthy of passion.”

–          Will Ferguson, IFOA, October 22nd, 2011

The events: International Festival of Authors: Shelagh Rogers interviews Will Ferguson; Wayne Grady hosts a roundtable on translation

When you’re preparing to host or be a guest at an International Festival of Authors event, part of your process should be a consideration of why people have purchased tickets. Why are you expecting a group of like-minded literary types to come down to Harbourfront and spend an hour of their time with you? What is the advertised topic of your event, what is the author’s style or genre, what interesting stories do you want to share with your audience so they feel like they’ve been a part of a fun or stimulating day?

October 22nd: Shelagh Rogers interviews Will Ferguson

                  

I ventured down to the Festival twice this weekend. First up was Shelagh Rogers of CBC fame interviewing Will Ferguson, prolific humourist and most recently author of the book Canadian Pie. Rogers, I think, was as much of a draw as Ferguson. It’s always fun to see the face behind a radio voice, and Rogers was fearless as she started off the interview by reminiscing about the first time she and Ferguson met—“cheek to cheek” and naked but for a screen separating them as they received on-air massages at Temple Gardens spa in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. (Side note: I’ve been to Temple Gardens for some truly excellent mineral bathing and spa treatments, including an hour spent in zero gravity in the sensory deprivation tank.) Continue reading “The Event: Will Ferguson (the Amusing) and the Translators (the Awkward) at IFOA 2011”