Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Word on the Street 2012

This year I attended Word on the Street for the first time.  It is a festival that celebrates books, authors, publishers and readers, bringing all these elements together on one day.  It is held at Queen's Park and features stalls representing major and minor Canadian publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers, as well as authors promoting their latest works through book signings and readings.  Larger tents of various themes had events scheduled throughout the day.

At the "Vibrant Voices of Ontario" tent which focused on local authors and stories, we attended our first event called "We Love Toronto: Books Inspired by the City".   Four authors, whose works of fiction or non fiction each used Toronto as the setting, read excerpts from their books and then answered questions.

"Oranges and Lemons" by Liz Bugg follows lesbian detective Cali Barrow on a new case.  Her home and office are set in the Kensington Market neighbourhood, while a boxing scene is based on the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club.  The author read with a melodramatic tone that perhaps surpassed the actual words on the page, which I found a bit off-putting and distracted me from the narrative.

Edward Keenan, editor of GRID magazine, wrote the soon to be published "Some Great Idea: Good Neighbourhoods, Crazy Politics and the Invention of Toronto".  He asked the audience whether they would rather hear an excerpt about how great Toronto is, or one about Mayor Rob Ford.  Of course, we went for the potentially more scandalous topic.  Rather than dwelling on Ford's recent slip-ups, Keenan's excerpt dealt with his time traveling around Toronto with Rob Ford when he was still a councilor.  Ford took pride in seeking out his constituents, even at their homes, in an attempt to solve their problems.  The reading was followed by an interesting discussion about how the tactics that endeared Ford to his constituents as a councilor did not work in the role of the mayor.   Because Keenan had not previously intended to discuss this particular topic, he had not printed out the section and had to read the text from his smart phone.


"Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto" by Peter Robinson sounded like a romance novel until we heard the subtitle: Life as a Maple Leafs Fan.  He has a knack of spinning the tale of his personal experiences as he describes his devotion to the Maple Leafs despite their decades long losing slump.  He compares how the Leafs make him feel to a sadomasochistic scene he witnessed looking into the window of a brothel in Hanover, Germany. 

Julie Wilson has an interesting premise for her book called "Seen Reading".  When she sits on Toronto transit, she watches other people reading, taking note of the reader, the book and the page number being read.  From each interaction, she is inspired to write a small snippet of fiction, no more than several paragraphs long.  The quote she liked to use to describe the readers she witnesses is "If I am a voyeur, then you are all exhibitionists".

At the Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestsellers tent, there was a huge crowd gathered to hear Gail Vaz-Oxlade, the star of the TV show "Til Debt Do Us Part" talk about her best selling book "Debt Free Forever".  We did not stumble upon this talk in time for the book discussion but did make it to hear the tail end of the Q&A.  Gail sounds just like she does on TV.  In her booming, sassy voice, she gives motivational, no-nonsense straight talk about debt, finances, mortgage.  There was a hilarious discussion about the high cost of divorce (she's split up 3 times and declared no more!) that brought to mind the lyrics from the old song - "you better keep her i think it's cheaper, then makin' whoopee".

At the Penguin Pavilion tent, promoting books published by Penguin Books, we listened to celebrity chef Mark McEwan and food writer Jacob Richler (son of Mordecai) be interviewed by the owner of the Cookbook Store.  They talked about past and current restaurant trends, what and how they cooked in their personal time, and their thoughts on banning items such as fois gras.  Jacob's book title "My Canada Includes Fois Gras" says it all.

The Scribendi Workshop Marquee Tent focused on talks and workshops to help the fledgling writer.  I just made it to the end of one of the most entertaining, useful or mortifying workshops, depending on your point of view.  Writers were given the opportunity to anonymously submit a 1 minute sample of their draft work.  This would be evaluated by professionals including a published novelist who teaches at the Humber School for Writing and a publisher.  The snippets were read aloud by the host of the session while the the judges took notes and occasionally stopped the reading in mid sentence (think American Idol tryouts) indicating they had heard enough.  Their constructive criticism pulled no punches.  Once they even burst out laughing at a sentence that was obviously not meant to be funny, which caused the rest of the audience to laugh, and probably made the author secretly cringe.  The writeup on the event did say you need a thick skin to participate.

Subsequent lectures dealt with tips on how to get published as well as details about self publishing and publishing in electronic formats (e-books) as opposed to traditional paper format (p-books).  Much was stressed about how the publishing part was just half the battle while self promotion of your book was equally if not more important.  The use of social media such as Facebook, Blogging, Twitter now seems to be a major component of book promotions.

Back at the Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestsellers Stage, noted environmentalist David Suzuki and economist Jeff Rubin discussed the interconnections between ecology and economy as part of their 10 city Canadian "Ecotour".  Rubin theorized that continually rising oil prices will lead to slower economic growth, which could actually result in fewer carbon emissions.  It may also lead to a change in our way of living.  Since oil is the main, if not only fuel used in transportation, the costs of importing and exporting could grow to an unsustainable level.  This could result in a less global economy where we once more rely on local manufacturing and stay closer to home, both in terms of commuting to work and to travel. 

There were many other interesting talks and unfortunately we could not get to more of them since they were all scheduled at the same time.  Looking forward to next year.

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