Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

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Doug Ford's reading List

Ever since Toronto Councillor and Mayoral advisor Doug Ford's humiliating revelation of the seemingly boundless extent of his illiteracy, the city has resonated with condemnation and ridicule. A campaign has even been instituted to draft renowned author (and Ford target) Margaret Atwood to run for Mayor.

In response, some commentators have taken up the didactic challenge of expanding Ford's awareness of Canadian literature. CBC Books blogger Erin Balser has, for example, suggested Ford read a diverse list of Canadian books, among them Brian Lee O'Malley's Toronto-set Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series and urbanist Jane Jacobs' classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Similarly, social network Zoomers.ca has invited members to submit reading recommendations for Ford.

My quibble with these reading lists is that they are not sufficiently Toronto-focused, nor politically attuned, to fully achieve their purpose. And so, in hopes of expanding the Ford brothers' literacy -- intellectually as well as administratively -- I present Doug Ford's Reading List, a kind of primer for political perspicacity:

Escape Velocity: A Meditation on the Poetics of Biking

For whole days at a time, when she'd first got back, she had gone biking, despite the slush and cold. In her helmet and sunglasses and gloves, no one had recognized her or stopped her. Biking comforted her. The risks were familiar risks: anonymous insults, skidding on streetcar tracks, car doors opening, an onion lying in the middle of the road. She'd tried to explain to Paul how much she loved the thrill of self-propulsion, feeling stripped down, sucked clean, swift and autonomous, warm in the raw air, the gas-sweet smell of car exhaust. [Catherine Bush, Minus Time.]

At escape velocity it is possible to rise above the earth, to leave its orbit, to be propelled into space and the unsilent reaches of the expanding cosmos.

Your face is familiar but I haven't the faintest idea who you are: Confessions of a Face-blind Raconteur

Several years ago I read a news report about prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, and thought immediately: that sounds quite a lot like me. The article included a link to the Prosopagnosia Research Centres at Harvard and University College London, and so I clicked through and completed one of their facial recognition tests (the main one is apparently no longer available unless you're a research subject), whose results indicated that while I may not have 'classical' prosopagnosia, my ability to recognise and remember faces is significantly impaired.

Authors of our own Misfortune: The Death and Afterlife of Bookselling in Toronto

Only days after being named Specialty Bookseller of the Year by the Canadian Booksellers Association. Toronto's venerable Flying Dragon Bookshop, a well-known Bayview Avenue purveyor of books for children and adults, announced it would be closing its doors at the end of June.

Jones, Interrupted

Even in the final days before filling her pockets with stones and wading into the River Ouse in March of 1941, Virginia Woolf struggled to find reasons to live. Her final diary entry is poignant, noting the fine spring weather and describing a lovely hat whose wearer she encountered in a tea room. "I will go down with my colours flying," she wrote before closing the diary for the last time.

Survivors of others' suicides often wonder whether some combination of impulsivity and regret infuses the final moments of those who have taken their own lives. The suggestion that death might not have been chosen so deliberately -- that suicide can be mitigated by some narrative of accident, compulsion or misadventure -- is a way of making space for grief to well up alongside the anger that suffuses many suicide survivors' memories of those who have lost themselves to us.

Seven Nineteenth Century Toronto Novels Worth Reading

Given the number of excellent Toronto novels, story anthologies and poetry collections out this spring (Farzana Doctor's Six Metres of Pavement, Robert Rotenberg's The Guilty Plea, Stuart Ross' Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew, Sean Dixon's wonderful The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn, Julie Booker's Up Up Up!, Jessica Westhead's And Also Sharks, Matthew J. Trafford's The Divinity Gene, Glen Downie's Local News, and reissues of Daniel Jones' 1978 and the brave never write poetry, among others), casting an eye across the dusty shelves of century-old city-based literary works might seem a bit backward.

No Mean City: Reading Sean Dixon's The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn

Toronto is a city in search of a mythology, a narrative that will transform it from a collection of bedroom communities into a city with a centre and a soul -- however tarnished or glittering that might be. In search of such a narrative, three kinds of myth-makers have turned their attentions to Toronto.

The first, epitomized by writers like Michael Ondaatje in In the Skin of a Lion and Hugh Hood (whose epic, Proustian, twelve-volume series the New Age / Le Nouvelle Siecle -- see The Swing in the Garden, Reservoir Ravine and Black and White Keys especially -- imagined Toronto as one centre of a great nation), have constructed realistic, identity-forming, city-building myths, such as those revolving around great public works (the Prince Edward Viaduct and R.C. Harris Water Filtration plan in the case of Ondaatje) and family dynasties (the Goderich and Archambault clans in Hood's series).

A Cure for Holocaust Envy: Reading Stuart Ross' Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew

For two full generations of North American Jews, growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust has meant living with familial as well as cultural rupture. It persists, more than half a century later, even as the tattooed grandmothers and traumatized great-uncles die off in nursing homes and hospitals and the decimated lineages fill in with nieces and grandsons. It persists as a burden even for those whose comfortable, middle-class lives in cities like Toronto seem to belie the memory of such suffering and loss.

Terrible Beauty: The Poetry of Paul Vermeersch

In poetry circles a longstanding debate -- beyond the ceaseless squabbling over the competing merits of lyrical, narrative, concrete, experimental and spoken word poetry or adherence to any of the various schools -- is "What is poetry?" and, more pointedly: "What is good poetry?"

I am not a poet and (after having made several serious attempts to study it) have come to conclude that I neither know nor really understand poetry. In large part this is because I cannot accept American poet-librarian Archibald MacLeish's famous injunction in "Ars Poetica" that "a poem should not mean / but be" -- a perspective that has in direct and subtle ways transformed contemporary poetry.

When I Write

It was five-thirty this morning when I came upstairs to write. The night had loosened but it was not quite morning yet. The house was silent and still. The only sounds: an early robin, the distant tremor of a train and the muted, intermittent drumming of my keyboard.

At a New Year's party a few months ago, the host passed around a copy of the Imagining Toronto book and one of the guests, a parent of two young children, hefted it and asked "When did you find the time to write something this thick?"

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