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Open Book’s Holiday Book Guide 2011: City Living

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Open Book’s Holiday Book Guide 2011: City Living

Happy Holidays from Open Book! Our second annual Holiday Book Guide will direct you to some of the most engaging books on store shelves this season. Open Book's Guide will be regularly updated throughout December, featuring a fresh theme with each listing.

Today's theme is CITY LIVING


Méira Cook’s narrative poem, A Walker in the City (Brick Books), explores themes of age, life, death, language and tradition. Consisting of seven sections, the poem is the story of the walker, a young woman who is a character that is written by an “old city poet” who is being written by another poet. Entertaining and intelligent, A Walker in the City is a captivating holiday read for urban dwellers.

Set in the Montreal neighbourhood of Carré St-Louis, Adrift (TSAR Publications) by Loren Edizel tells the story of John, a recent immigrant to Canada who works as a night-shift nurse and who carries a journal at all times so that he can record his thoughts and impressions. As the novel progresses, we begin to realize who John really is.

Jon Evan’s Beasts of New York (The Porcupine’s Quill) follows Patch, a young squirrel who ventures out from Central Park in search of his family and food, both of which have disappeared overnight. As he hits the streets of New York, Patch gets caught up in a battle that “unites squirrels, birds, cats and dogs against vicious forces below the ground.” A complex and suspenseful novel, which features 11 original and powerful wood engravings by Jim Westergard

Sean Dixon's novel is a kitchen sink of ideas and themes. This should be taken as a compliment, as he handles the menagerie of characters and conflicts with a clever and deft touch. The Revenges of Kip Flynn (Coach House Books) is a story of, you guessed it, revenge. But this novel is also about class, the politics of geography and the structure of the novel itself. It's an overwhelming juggernaut of ideas and strong characterizations, so be sure to put this one in an extra-large stocking.

In his foreward to The Evolution of Great World Cities: Urban Wealth and Economic Growth (University of Toronto Press) by Christopher Kennedy, Richard Florida cites the book as “one of the most truly original takes on cities and their economic development that I’ve read in quite a while.” That’s high praise given how many books on cities Florida must have on his shelves. Kennedy’s book discusses the economic growth of several urban centres, including Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Toronto, Venice, London and New York City.

If you follow David McGimpsey on Twitter (and if you don't you should) you know that he's the epitome of the grumpy, cynically warped Anglophone Montrealer. Beneath this crusty layer resides the tender heart of a romantic idealist, although he would never admit this much. Li'l Bastard (Coach House Books) is just that: it's a porky collection of slightly oversized, big-hearted sonnets that intend to dismantle the jaded and rub you just the right wrong way. If McGimpsey isn't afraid to write poetry, you shouldn't be afraid to give it as a gift. 

One of the more charming and telling characteristics of Torontonians is their obsession with self-improvement. Local Motion (Coach Houe Books), edited by Dave Meslin, Christina Palassio and Alana Wilcox, is a fantastic example of this obsession. The book is a collection of essays by local journalists and pundits about how Toronto can improve itself. This is the perfect book for the civic engagement nerd. The essays are well written and deal with everything from battling bureaucracy at city hall to the promise of a "creative city still to come." Pair this one with Five Good Ideas and get motivated and enact change.

Chosen as a Quill & Quire Book of the Year for Young People, The Tiffin (Dancing Cat Books) by Mahtab Narsimhan is a great gift for any middle-grade youth on your list. Set in Mumbai, The Tiffin (the word for a boxed lunch) tells the story of 12-year old Kunal as he hatches a plan with the help of the dabbawallas — those who deliver the tiffins to white-collar workers — to escape the danger and oppression he is faced with everyday and reunite with his birth mother.

Pick up a copy of Metraville (Insomniac Press) by Jamie Popowich and delve into the fictional city of Metraville, where you get to know the city’s residents, including Metraville’s first astronaut, Tavis Stiker, and Julian Baxter, a criminal on a quest to help his mother. Popowich’s smart novel has a playful structure, incorporating scripted dialogue, diagrams, footnotes and illustrations.

The thing about the theatre that makes it so exciting — and an enduring art — is that it is an ephemeral experience. The play is staged, you attend a performance, you experience the ideas and emotions of the narrative and then it is left to linger in the mind. Of course, the danger with that is that without a document we are all left with nothing but the collective memory of these performances. Luckily, we have Playwrights Canada Press, which here has put together an important collection of texts from plays that were staged at Toronto's Tarragon theatre between 1998-2005. If you or a loved one is crazy for the stage, then Tonight at the Tarragon is the ideal gift to savour long after the curtain has dropped. 

Karen X Tulchinsky's gripping novel, Love Ruins Everything (Insomniac Press), follows its protagonist, Nomi, "a bumbling butch lesbian," from heartbreak in San Francisco to Toronto, where her family lives. In Toronto, she meets the "new woman of her dreams" and becomes involved in AIDS activism, working to reveal hidden truths behind the epidemic. Love Ruins Everything was first published in 1998 by Raincoast Books. In her foreward to the new edition, Tulchinsky writes that the story was in part inspired by Dr. Alan Cantwell, a physician whose theory is that "HIV was created by the US military as a form of biological warfare, which was then tested on gay men through the Hepatitis B experimental vaccine."

George A. Walker’s Book of Hours: A Wordless Novel Told in 99 Wood Engravings is immensely moving. The book starts in the early morning on September 10, 2011 and ends at 9:02 a.m. on September 11, 2001. Most of the engravings depict people going about their daily routines — taking the subway, riding up escalators, eating lunch, working and so on — up until the morning of the attack on the Twin Towers. Book of Hours is a poignant reminder of the world we lost. In his preface, Walker writes, “The events of 9/11 irrevocably divided our world, but not on the borders of nations as is often assumed; the division lies in time, between the wold before the attacks and the world after.”


Buy these books at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

The Holiday Book Guide is written by Kate Burgess, Michael Doyle and Clelia Scala

Are you a high school student who loves to write? Check out Write Across Ontario, a creative writing contest for Ontario high school students from IFOA Ontario and Open Book: Ontario. You can find the full details at

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