Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: What I Did On My Holidays — INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair

My impression of Toronto is a whirl of chilly weather, excellent people, amazing food, and books. So many books, so many of them my kind of books.

Admittedly, my view of Toronto as a city of books might just have a little to do with the fact I was there to attend the first INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair (hereafter referred to as the TIBF, because I distrust names in all caps with exclamation marks). The TIBF, in concert with Tourism Toronto, flew in seven bloggers to cover the event, leading some people to conclude the organisers had more money than sense: the amazing Book Smugglers, Jane of Dear Author, Kelly of Book Riot, a Canadian mother and daughter blogging team called Chapter By Chapter, and your humble correspondent.

(I confess, it felt a little bit like the deluxe book hospitality Toronto experience. Probably because I’m not at all used to being put up in hotel rooms for a couple of days where the square footage of the bedroom and bathroom is about the same as the whole ground floor of my house at home.)

What has this to do with Sleeps With Monsters? To begin with, Toronto is the home of a slice of SFF book heaven. Maybe two slices. Tourism Toronto arranged for all us blogger-types to take a tour of some of Toronto’s independent book shops, led by journalist Michael Kaminer, and one of the stops was this place, a second-hand book shop whose entire top floor is given over to science fiction, fantasy, comics, manga, SFF THINGS WITH WORDS IN, and I about had a bookgasm, because WOW the selection. And then we went to Bakka Phoenix, and it was only with much difficulty that several of us were pulled away, because Canada’s oldest SFF book shop is delightful and marvellous.*

*One of the customers came in as we were leaving, and turned out to be not only a fan of the Book Smugglers, but also a reader of this column. So Jeff got his picture taken with the three of us. Hi, Jeff!

And makes me think. In Dublin, I frequently annoy the staff of our best bookshop, Hodges Figgis, about their SFF display tables and the gender balance of the works on display. Every time I’ve been to the UK, I’ve done bookshop tourism in Waterstones, and what’s on the display tables is often the same couple of dozen names—and strongly weighted, even more than actual publishing in the UK, towards male authors. Often, the shelves don’t have a very wide selection either. But these two bookshops in Toronto, they have an immense selection, something for everyone, a variety of things on display. Is it because Toronto is a city of six millions of people? Is it because these bookshops are independently owned? Is it something in the air or the water?

What magic is this, and why can’t we have it everywhere?

The TIBF itself was located in the Metro North Convention Centre, taking up quite a bit of space. I’d never been to a “book fair” before, and expected something more like a trade show than the very much public-facing event that it turned out to be. Headline attractions at the main stage—there were six, along with two further event areas—included Margaret Atwood, Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, William Gibson, E. Lockhart, Kelley Armstrong, and Maggie Stiefvater, along with Kathy Reichs and several other people of whom I know much less but who were clearly possessed of Some Fame. It was clearly a SFF-friendly, and a Young Adult-friendly, event. (And had a strikingly diverse array of participants, with a track dedicated to First Nations, Inuit and Métis writing in Canada, and one to international writing.)

Your humble correspondent, though, spent much of the time hanging out in the geek corner of the TIBF, where the Science Fiction Writers of America and ChiZine Publications had two small adjacent booths. And here I learned that Toronto is full of writers writing SFF. Shockingly full.

Matthew Johnson and Julie Czerneda at the SFWA booth

In particular, I learned of three novels by Canadian authors, all of whom did readings during the course of the weekend, and all of which I now want to read. Robin Riopelle’s debut Deadroads (Nightshade Books/Skyhorse), which sounds like a good solid dark fantasy murder mystery; Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut Radiant (Talos/Skyhorse), which sounds interestingly weird; and Caitlin Sweet’s fourth novel, The Door In The Mountain (CZP), which looks like it is a fascinating reworking of the Cretan minotaur myth.

There were some things that looked really interesting at the ChiZine booth, too, like the books of Nancy Baker, and Gemma Files’ new collection, We Will All Go Down Together, and the collections of Helen Marshall, but those three were the most interesting-sounding books of the entire weekend of which I had not previously been aware. (I had been aware of the books of A.M. Dellamonica and Julie Czerneda, but I didn’t realise they were also great conversationalists.)

As for the book fair itself? If it survives its first-time learning curve and decides what it really wants to be when it grows up, it could develop into an event to watch. If it doesn’t… well, I got a free trip to Toronto out of it, so I’d really rather like to see TIBF grow up into something absolutely amazing, rather than the interesting and entertaining event that I experienced this year.

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.


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