I had this idea for a book about a mother and daughter at that moment where they split apart: the emotional separation that must precede the physical one when a child leaves home. I knew the characters right away—17-year-old Maddie, burning to grow up, and her mom, Gwen, devoted yet unknowable—but I needed a world, and a drama, in which to place them. I heard about someone I knew winning a small amount in a lottery, and it shocked me somehow: Why them? What now? I decided that a win like that would be a good place to put my fictional family: a gain to contrast the loss. Stay Where I Can See You became a book about secrets, and the ebb and flow of fortune, and how those fortunes collide and coexist in a city.
I don’t look at books that are too similar to mine when I’m writing but this is a list of kindred stories that I’ve read over the years that circle similar themes, and probably worked their way into my brain and slid onto the page in ways I’ll never fully understand.
What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand
Brand deploys her poet’s pen t …
I worked on The Work for … long enough to forget how long. And I know I’m not alone. Almost every writer I talk to has a long-simmering novel somewhere that they can’t seem to complete, but can’t give up, either. Maybe it’s loyalty, maybe it’s stubbornness; maybe we just don’t know how to stop. It’s not unlike the thwarted love-affair in my novel. The trouble is that as the years go by, the original concept no longer seems so inspiring, or so relevant. At a time like that, it helps to see the project through a new lens.
I remember when that shift happened for me with The Work. I was lying in bed reading Eva Stachniak’s The Chosen Maiden. My eyes were closing, but I just could not put it down. I turned the page, eager to know what would happen to the young Bronia Nijinska at the Imperial Ballet School, but first I came one of the interludes interspersed through the book. They take place in 1939 and show Bronia on a ship bound for the United States at the start of the Second World War, a perilous voyage toward an uncertain future. I was on the ship with Bronia, feeling the cold sea air, along with the grief she cannot leave behind. In these interludes Stachniak says, Sure, an exciting story is unfolding, but I’m going to show you something more: …
Mobile is Tanis MacDonald's uncivil feminist reboot of Dennis Lee's Civil Elegies and Other Poems; an urban lament about female citizenship and settler culpability; an homage to working and walking women in a love/hate relationship with Toronto, its rivers and creeks, its sidewalks and parks, its history, misogyny and violence. How do we, in Lee's words, see the "lives we had not lived" that "invisibly stain" the city? What are the sexual politics of occupying space in a city, in a workspace, in history? How can we name our vulnerabilities and our disasters and still find strength?
In this recommended reading list, MacDonald suggests some literary walking companions.
Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person, by Erín Moure
Moure’s translation of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessao’s O Guardador de Rebanhos is such a work of beauty. Transposing sheep to cats and the fields of Portugal to the grid of streets around St. Clair and Vaughan Road in Toronto, Moure finds the underground creek system in the sewers, and follows history, geography, and the flow of …
As this summer’s Pride festivals and festivities are set to get underway, we’re in conversation this week with three of the editors of the seminal (and fabulous) volume on Toronto queer history—Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer. It’s a pleasure to be in conversation with John Lorinc, Rahim Thawer, and Jane Farrow.*
Published by Coach House, the anthology draws on a range of voices to explore how the residents of queer Toronto have shaped and reshaped one of the world’s most diverse cities. Any Other Way includes chapters on Oscar Wilde’s trip to Toronto; early cruising areas and gay/lesbian bars; queer shared houses; a pioneering collective counter-archive project; bath house raids; LBGT-police conflicts; the Queen Street art/music/activist scene; and a profile of Jackie Shane, the trans R&B singer who performed in drag in both Toronto and Los Angeles, and gained international fame with her 1962 chart-topping single, "Any Other Way."
Rahim Thawer is a registered social worker, consultant, post-secondary instructor, and mental health cou …
B. Denham Jolly arrived in Canada from Jamaica to attend university in the mid-1950s and worked as a high school teacher before going into the nursing and retirement-home business. Though he was ultimately successful in his business ventures, Jolly faced both overt and covert discrimination, which led him into social activism. The need for a stronger voice for the Black community fuelled Jolly’s 12-year battle to get a licence for a Black-owned radio station in Toronto. At its launch in 2001, Flow 93.5 became the model for urban music stations across the country, helping to launch the careers of artists like Drake.
In his new memoir, In the Black: My Life, Jolly chronicles not only his own journey; he tells the story of a generation of activists who worked to reshape the country into a more open and just society. While celebrating these successes, In the Black also measures the distance Canada still has to travel before we reach our stated ideals of equality.
When you are Black in Canada, the arrival of the police on the scene is not always, or even often, reassuring.
Three years ago, on Parliament Street in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, not far from where I live, I had a fender bender. I was exchanging insurance information with the other driver whe …
Danila Botha on the books that inspired her to write about life in the city in her new novel, Too Much on the Inside.
When I first started writing my novel, Too Much on the Inside, I knew that I wanted to write about four people who were new to Toronto. I was born in South Africa, and had also lived in Israel, and was inspired by the social realities of both. I also had a lot of Brazilian friends from my time teaching English as a second language, and knew that I wanted to write about their experiences.
At the time I started writing, I was living in Halifax, a beautiful city, and a city later described in the novel by Lukas, the character from Nova Scotia, but I was homesick for the multiculturalism, vibrancy, energy and endless possibilities that existed in my adopted hometown.
I focused on the characters at first, then quickly realized, as I was writing descriptions of Toronto—from Queen Street to St Clair to Bathurst and Lawrence—that Toronto was becoming the novel’s fifth character.
I knew I had to read and reread some of my favourite novels and short stories collections set in Toronto (and in Montreal and Nova Scotia) for more inspiration. Here are some of my favourites.
Earlier this month, Toronto's TYPE Books was named Magazines Canada's Retailer of the Year for 2014. It's just the latest success for this nearly decade-old shop that only seems to be getting better and better with time. They're a beautiful and inspiring space, as well as an excellent books retailer, home to community events, and creator of window displays that are the stuff of legend. Oh, and they've been a film set—twice.
We were lucky to have a chat with TYPE owner Joanne Saul to learn more about the shop and how the magic happens.
49th Shelf: I remember my first visit to TYPE Books in 2006—the damask wallpaper made a huge impression. (I also remember celebrating your first birthday with a cake shaped like a typewriter—did that really happen?) What has changed since the store opened? What has stayed the same?
Joanne Saul: It did happen! That was quite a cake. We started TYPE with a mandate to root ourselves deeply in the communities that we service. This hasn't changed (neither has the damask wallpaper!). In fact, we've been able to grow …
Part voyeuristic pleasure, part travel-guide, the Perfect Summer Day Questionnaire connects writers and their books to real-life Canadian places while celebrating the goodness of summer.
Monica Heisey is a writer and comedian from Toronto. Do yourself a favour and read her essay, "A Day in the Life of Pinterest," which appeared in The New Yorker. And then check out her book, I Can't Believe It's Not Better: A Women's Guide to Coping With Life.
49th Shelf: Tell us about the setting for your perfect summer day. Is it a place in your book? The place where you live? Somewhere that you’re homesick for?
Monica Heisey: As far as places to spend a summer day go, Toronto is really up there for me. After what we’ve all been through, weather-wise, in the winter months, people really Lean In when things get nice. It feels like the whole city comes out of hiding and celebrates.
49th Shelf: Obviously, you’ve got a book to read. What book is it? Where do you go to read it?
MH: Lately I’ve been loving non-fiction and oral history books. I just finished P …
Talking History focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, and it consists of articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts. Our contributors use the power of narrative to bring the past to life and to show how it is not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today. "Talking History" is a series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.
John Lorinc is a Toronto urban affairs journalist and co-editor, with Michael McClelland, Ellen Scheinberg and Tatum Taylor, of The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood.
When I was growing up, in North Toronto in the early 1970s, I loved to thumb through a picture book that my parents had acquired as part of a small collection of titles about the city’s history. They had fled Hungary during the 1956 revolution, settled in Toronto and set to work becoming Canadians, and, as the presence of those books suggested, Torontonians as well.
Some of these volumes documented a time that seemed impossibly remote. They contained (to my eye) dust-dry tales of stern Anglicans and colonial superintendents presiding over a town depicted in engravings that bore no discernible similarity to the city I was c …
This story with its shocking expose of social evils, holds a forceful message for both sexes. Its strange mixture of power, tension and torment mark it as a human story that will thrill and grip all readers. Down in the depths of the city, washed by the murky waters of the dock-yards lies Skidrow, a dark den of intrigue and mystery, whose crumbling structures harbour the outcasts of the city.—From the 1950 edition
Hugh Garner’s second novel, Waste No Tears, hit drug store and train station spinner racks in July of 1950—then disappeared, never to see print again… until now. This is the latest release from Ricochet Books, a series of vintage noir mysteries edited by Brian Busby. The book's introduction, by Amy Lavender Harris, appears below.
Toronto the Good—the straitlaced “City of Churches” where public drinking was prohibited and playground swings padlocked on Sundays—receives a far darker rendering in Hugh Garner’s Waste No Tears, a novel set in the bars, bedrooms and abortion clinics of Toronto’s skid row district. Pitched as “The Novel about the Abortion Racket,” Waste No Tears peels back the city’s thin veneer of respectable civility to reveal a far seamier underside—albeit one with its own covert morality.
First published in 1 …
In this excerpt from his new book Some Great Idea: Good Neighbourhoods, Crazy Politics and the Invention of Toronto, Edward Keenan shows the reality behind Toronto's urban/suburban split, and explains the appeal of our national conundrum, Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford.
When David Miller hoisted a broom above his head at the Bamboo in 2003, and when Rob Ford had a plastic lei placed around his neck at the Toronto Congress Centre seven years later, both represented enormous grassroots victories. The analysis of what followed doesn’t change the lesson both illustrate—that the conventional wisdom of political insiders and pundits can be, and regularly is, thwarted by the people of the city.
But their similarity actually leads to the core philosophical difference between the two: Miller’s promise was to enable people to better participate in city government; Ford’s was to make city government a better servant to more people. It may seem like a slight distinction, but it speaks volumes. And you could see it most clearly articulated in the language each politician used. Ford, famously, talked endlessly about ‘taxpayers.’ Miller openly rejected that characterization and preferred to talk about ‘citizens.’
Obviously, most voters are both citizens and taxpayers. (S …
Maggie Helwig's Girls Fall Down—the acclaimed novel of fear and love set in a Toronto in crisis—has been named the 2012 One Book: Toronto title. The Toronto Public Library's city-wide book club runs throughout April.
The Toronto Public Library runs the One Book: Toronto program as part of April's "Keep Toronto Reading" festivities. Torontonians are encouraged to read one book together en masse and join in a city-wide conversation. Throughout April, the Toronto Public Library will host dozens of events concerning Girls Fall Down and its themes.
Past One Book: Toronto titles include Midnight at the Dragon Cafe (Judy Fong Bates), More (Austin Clarke) and Consolation (Michael Redhill).
About Girls Fall Down:
Girls Fall Down opens with a girl fainting in the Toronto subway. Her friends are taken to the hospital with unexplained rashes. Swarms of police arrive, and then the hazmat team. Panic ripples through the city, and words like poisoning and terrorism become airborne. Alex, a medical photographer who is hoping to chronicle the Toronto he knows on film before his sight fails completely, is a witness to this first episode. During the hysteria, he encounters an old girlfriend–the one who shattered his heart in the eighties, while she was fighting for social justice …