literary event

The Event: Guy Gavriel Kay at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon

Guy Gavriel Kay. All photos in this blog © Alexander Hoffman.
Guy Gavriel Kay. All photos in this post © Alexander Hoffman.

A day that takes a quarter-turn to the fantastic…that’s how I would describe April 4th.

It took me a week to write about this event because I needed enough distance from it to say something more interesting than “Eeeeee!” We all have those particular authors, don’t we? The ones we’ve just discovered, or the ones we’ve loved all our lives, whose writing moves us, whose imminent new books make us tingle with glee and anticipation. I’ve had the privilege of meeting several authors from my own superstar pantheon, but I’d yet to have a chance to meet Guy Gavriel Kay, whom I have read and loved for more than fifteen years. With the release of his new book River of Stars, the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon series rectified that for me by presenting a wonderful evening with Mr. Kay and Chatelaine books editor Laurie Grassi.

With the exception (the exceptional exception, one might argue) of the high fantasy of the Fionavar Tapestry, Guy writes books that are deeply steeped in history and geography, writing in settings that are based on, but are not, in our world–settings similar to Moorish Spain, medieval Italy, and Viking invasions of Saxony. In his 2010 novel Under Heaven, we encounter the land of Kitai, based on China during the Tang Dynasty. In his new novel River of Stars, we are returned to Kitai some 400 years later. In conversation with Laurie Grassi, Guy discussed River, history and his not-quite-historical settings, what moves him to write, and–what else?–baseball.

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literary event, Multimedia Mondays

Multimedia Monday: TIFF presents the Books on Film series

Deepa Mehta's Midnight's Children. Photo Credit: TIFF Film Reference Library
Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children. Photo Credit: TIFF Film Reference Library

Part of the fun of being a book lover in a city like Toronto is that there’s never a shortage of bookish events to attend. One of the most exciting and thought-provoking of the year is the Books on Film series, presented by Toronto International Film Festival at the Bell Lightbox.

As you may know, I love the intersection of literature with other media, seeing interpretations of great books as movies, tv series, ballets, plays, and more. Over the course of six evenings that explore great films that were inspired by great books, the Books on Film series is presented in association with Random House of Canada. Each evening features a different book-to-movie with a different guest expert, and the series’ host is near and dear to many a reader’s heart: Eleanor Wachtel, of CBC’s Writers and Company.

Subscriptions to the series are available for $153 for TIFF Members or $180 for non-members (prices include tax). Based on availability, single tickets may be released closer to the event. The first 100 subscribers will receive a complimentary copy of each book featured, courtesy of Random House of Canada.

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fun stuff, literary event

The Event: Rare Stories and Rarer Tea with Jeff Fuchs

On Wednesday, November 7th I had to chance to see new art, have a chat with a rather incredible man in Shangri-La, and sample a tea that may never before have been tasted in Canada. . .

Tea and art aficionados mingle and taste tea on the lower level of the Ars Nova gallery.

This will come as a shock to you: one of my passions is great storytelling. I know, I know, I hide it well, don’t I? One of my other passions, which you may also have heard me talk about in person or on Twitter, is tea. Toronto is home to dozens of tea shops, each different from the last. Over the years, my palate for loose-leaf tea has become more and more refined. I admit it, I’m a bit of a tea snob.

I’m even part of a tea club, which meets all over the city to check out tea purveyors and taste their wares, try out different afternoon tea services, go to seminars, and just have all kinds of fun to do with tea. One of the places we often meet is the Tea Emporium, which features artwork by Canadian author/photographer/explorer/tea-freak Jeff Fuchs. Our group jumped at the chance to see Jeff’s newest photograph exhibit at the Ars Nova gallery, especially when we heard what else the evening had to offer: a talk with Jeff in Yunnan and the launch of a very special subscription service called Jalam Teas.

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literary event

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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literary event

The Event: Rick Mercer and Aislin at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon

Rick Mercer and Terry Mosher at the Appel Salon.
All photographs taken by Alexander Hoffman.

“I want to be you when I grow up.”
– Rick Mercer to Terry Mosher, Oct. 18, 2012

This will surprise no one in Canada, but it has to be said: Rick Mercer is a funny, funny man. He, along with Terry Mosher (aka Aislin), appeared at Toronto Reference Library as part of the Star Talks program at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon. And he had the sold-out crowd paralyzed with belly laughs all evening.

Mr. Mercer took to the stage after an introduction by writer, critic, and purveyor of arts and pop culture Geoff Pevere, who also acted as moderator for the discussion in the evening’s second half. Exuding energy and charm, Rick seemed genuinely pleased to be with us as he settled comfortably behind the podium. Looking around, he said, “Wow. A library with a bar!” He hung out at the library a lot when he was a kid, he said, so much so that his dad warned him he’d start suffering from Old Book Lung, but the libraries of his youth never had a bar in them.

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literary event

The Event: Emma Donoghue at Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon

Emma Donoghue © Nina Subin, 2010. Image from

Book season has officially kicked off in Toronto. With Tuesday night’s fabulous Bookstravaganza, the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival, Word on the Street, and the International Festival of Authors, we also have the always incredible (and incredibly free) Bram & Bluma Appel Salon programs at the Toronto Reference Library.

Several hundred fans came out on September 19th for an evening with Emma Donoghue, who is known as much for her vivid, meticulous historical fiction (Slammerkin, The Sealed Letter) as she is her 2010 blockbuster success Room , a contemporary novel told from the point of view of a precocious five year old whose whole, mostly happy, world, Room, is actually the prison he and his mother are kept in by her kidnapper and serial rapist. With her new historical fiction short story collection, Astray, arriving on shelves at the end of October, I was eager to hear what an author of such diverse genres and forms had to say.

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literary event, Uncategorized

The Event: BOOKSTRAVAGANZA, presented by Random House of Canada and Chatelaine Magazine

Last night was a first for the Toronto book scene: Bookstravangza, a Fashion-Week-inspired celebration of Random House’s new fall line-up. A fun, fanciful evening that hit just the right level of sweetness and decadence, the night was as much about the joy of reading as it was about unveiling Random House’s hot fall titles.

Staged at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, the setting was lush and enhanced by books on every shelf and table, which guests were encouraged to take home with them. Along with some mingling and seeing many familiar book-loving faces, I was also delighted by the candy bar—literally a bar at which we could help ourselves to candy, just down the way from the drinks. A pink, lemony vodka drink was the signature cocktail of the evening, and the wine flowed generously, too. Tasty and chocolaty petits fours graced our tables so that we could nibble throughout the program, which promised talks from top editors and as well as authors Annabel Lyon and Shauna Singh Baldwin.

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