Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

We Are What We Read/ We Read What We Are

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We Are What We Read/ We Read What We Are

With just a few days to go before Christmas, I dropped into Balfour Books, College Street's wonderful used bookseller, for an hour or two. I wanted to see a small sampling of what books folks were picking up, either for their own holiday reading pleasure, or as gifts. Here's the inside scoop:

Jill, a woman in her early twenties purchased two art books for her mom, whom she said was an artist: Gustav Klimt by Alfred Weidinger, Prestel (2007) and Gino Severini: The Dance 1909-1916, by Daniela Fonti and John Gage, Skira Editore, 2001.

Constitutional lawyer and Little Italy celebrity, Rocco Galati, came by just for a minute with his brother, and, in no time flat, nabbed The Complete Works of Chaucer, Oxford University Press, 1973. He quipped that he wanted to improve his English and thought it best to go back to the beginning.

Karen, a costume maker or "stitcher" for the Canadian Opera Company, purchased a pocket-book edition of Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, as well as The Canadian Corps in World War I by Rene Chartrand, with illustrations by Gerry Embleton, Osprey Publishing, 2007, and a second book in the same series, also written by Rene Chartrand and illustrated by Gerry and Samuel Embleton, American Loyalist Troops, 1775-84, Osprey Publishing, 2008.

"I'm buying gifts for my brother," confided Lisa Taylor, a former Torontonian, now an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Quebec. (As we chatted, I realized that we had previously met at the home of Karleen Pendleton Jimenez, my almost next-door neighbour, who commutes to Peterborough to teach in the Faculty of Education at Trent University.) After browsing the fiction section for a while, and carefully reading the inside jackets to get a sense of a variety of plots, Lisa settled on The Story of Edgar Sawtella by David Wroblewski, Anchor Canada, 2008 and Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero, Vantage Canada, 2007.

Meanwhile, Lisa's friend, self-confessed engineering geek, Kirk Johnson, bought Play: How It Shapes the Brian, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stewart Brown and Christopher Vaughan, Avery, 2009.

Not long after Kirk's playful purchase, Warren Maharaj picked up Nigel Calder's Magic Universe, The Oxford Guide to Modern Science, Oxford University Press, 2003.

I, of course, bumped into quite a few friends from the 'hood while I was hanging around Balfour Books, including art director Fernanda Pisani. Fernanda was actually born and raised in Little Italy, and she and her husband, art director Tim Davin, and their children still live in her (artfully restored and redecorated) childhood home. Fernanda was choosing books to be set aside until later in the day, when her husband would come by to purchase them for her as presents (an inventive way, I thought, to make sure that you get something that you really want for Christmas). The books that Fernanda selected were: an antique children's book, Chatterbox, 1913, Wells Gardner Darton & Co; Children's Book Covers: Great Book Jacket and Cover Design by Alan Powers, Mitchell Beazley, 2003; and the revised edition of The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, Penguin, 1996.

Just after Fernanda left to pick up a present for her hubby (I hate to say it , but Fernanda wasn't planning to purchase a book for him; she was heading off to the LCBO to buy a good bottle of single malt), another designer, Hilla from Slater Kirmayer Art & Design, picked up softcover editions of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (which was, I just discovered, first published in Spanish way back in 1967) and Nabokov's Lolita (first published in 1955). (I loved both those books and couldn't resist complimenting her on her choices.)

Krys Verrall, a children's studies researcher and prof with a special interest in the depiction of children in art, bought The Animals' Day: An Island Alphabet, by Toronto artist Barbara W. Klunder, Groundwood Books, 2009 (which, I can't resist interjecting, looked like such a delightful work, celebrating the animals who live on Toronto Island) and Kid Size: The Material World of Childhood, by Alexander Von Vegesack, Skira, 1998.

Cindy, a visitor from Vancouver, found a present for her father: Build Your Own Windmill by Gillon, Edmund V. Jr., Perigee/Putnam's 1981.

Jordan bought Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach for his mum, because "she loved Atonement." For her cousin, Risa bought The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst, "a seminal work of gay fiction" which she "wasn't able to find any place else." Myrna, a high-school student, bought for her father, NATO, The Military Codification System for the Ordering of Everything in The World by Suzanne Treister, Blackdog Publishing, 2008, and for herself, a copy of The New International Version Study Bible, "because it's Christmas and I realized that I didn't know a thing about Christianity."

And how could I leave the shop empty-handed?

Last, but not least, I bought The Gift, Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master, Translations by Daniel Ladinsky, Compass, Penguin Group, 1999.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Karen Shenfeld

Toronto poet Karen Shenfeld is the author of The Law of Return (Guernica Editions, 1999) and The Fertile Crescent (Guernica Editions, 2005). Her work has also appeared in well-known journals published in Canada, the United States, South Africa and Bangladesh. Her personal documentary, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little Italy, was screened at the 2007 Planet in Focus Environmental Film & Video Festival.

Go to Karen Shenfeld ’s Author Page