The Word On The Street: Toronto 2010

This past Sunday, I went to The Word On the Street for the first time, in Toronto. I had myself a full schedule worked out so that I could hear a lot of interesting authors read in some and learn interesting and helpful bits in others. In the end, I didn’t make it to everything that I had planned on getting to, but I still managed to see, hear, and learn quite a bit, and am definitely looking forward to going again next year!

I had a little mishap with my bank over the weekend, which meant that I had absolutely no access to money for this event; one good thing about this meant that I didn’t buy a single book, which would have been a very sad thing to do right near the end of September’s book buying ban! I also somehow managed to forget to charge my camera batteries, so the first batch of photographs are great, but after that I had to switch to my iPhone, which means that the later photographs are much poorer in quality (particularly in terms of inability to zoom in). Throughout this post, you can see any of the photos at full-size by clicking on the thumbnail.

The first thing that I noticed when I arrived at Queen’s Park – right behind the Provincial Legislature – was just how many people and tents there were. The place was packed! I was meeting a friend there around 11, but was a bit delayed, so I walked from the south end of Queen’s Park up to meet her by Museum subway station near one of the information booths. All of the streets were shut down to vehicular traffic, and there were people walking right down the midle of the streets along with police officers riding bicycles. There were lots of food vendors set up along the major streets, while booksellers, organizations, and assorted related vendors were set up in tents around the green. Inside the park, there were larger tents set up for speakers and round tables, as well as some author signing tents and larger vendors.

My friend and I kept walking around, trying to check out as many of the vendor booths as we could. There were a couple places that really caught my attention. In between the expected vendors – large and small publishing companies, the Toronto Public Library and BookMobile, and lots of local magazines – there were a few booths that stood out. The first was a children’s book vendor, and I have to be honest: they caught my attention because of their focus and their sponsor. This booth was sponsored by Rainbow Caterpillar, a group that works towards book production for children in a variety of languages. Isn’t their logo just so very adorable?!

There were lots of interesting little vendor tents, too many for me to write about them all here. I want to highlight a couple that really caught my attention, though, just because they were fun!

One of these was the tent for the Alternate Reality News Service. You can see the man who I talked to on the left here, posing in an absolutely fantastic hat. His explanation of the “news service” was that they are essentially the sci-fi version of The Onion. I think that could be rather interesting, even though sci-fi normally isn’t something that I read.

Another vendor tent that I really enjoyed was the one for Come As You Are, a Canadian co-operative sex store (the only one in the world!). I wasn’t expecting to see them at the event, so I was rather pleasantly surprised! They had some very interesting books with them on display, some of which you can see in the larger version of the photo on the right. In addition to being a “sex store”, CAYA also runs workshops, organizes private parties, and generally works towards creating a more open, friendly, accessible, helpful, and educational environment for people to learn about sex and express themselves, their identities, and their sexualities. I was happy to see them in this venue – yet another way to reach out and make their services available for a wider audience.

Little Witch Press was another of the rather interesting vendor tents that we came across. Not only were all of their books about child witches, but they were decorated with all sorts of fun trickets and decorations, including broomsticks, a mini-cauldron, and a stuffed black cat. Nearby, there was a sign leading to another section of the children’s area, where The Farties were “on tour”. I don’t even know who or what that is, but take a look at the sign they had set up! That was a fabulous graphic design job, absolutely guaranteed to grab the attention of anyone walking past it – especially any with small children.

Once my friend and I had enough of walking around looking at vendors for a while, we stopped into the Remarkable Reads tent to listen to some authors read as part of Youth Hour. I caught a few minutes of Rebecca Eckler reading from Apple’s Angst; to be honest, while the story sounded interesting, I wasn’t really all that impressed with her reading skills. She was stumbling over her words quite a bit, and it felt as if it could have been a bit more practiced to make things go smoothly. The other people in the tent seemed like they were enjoying the story too, though, so it seems to have made up for it! After that, we caught the author we had been waiting for: Kelley Armstrong. I’ve never read any of her books myself, but my friend was really interested in listening to her speak, and I’ve heard such good things about her writing that I really wanted to hear her read. After mentioned the Smart Chicks Kick It tour – which had its last stop in Brampton the day before – she went on to read the prologue for her upcoming book The Gathering. It sounded really interesting – I’m definitely going to have to check it out!

Then we decided to walk around again for a while. In particularly, I was looking for the area with Polkaroo, since we had been told that there were Polkaroo pins being given out somewhere (and had also seen kids running around with small cutouts!). Sadly, I never found any pins or anything, but I did find some other interest Polkaroo stuff. There was a tent raising money for public broadcast television in the children’s area, and they were using colourful circles with Polkaroo images on them for donors. Right next to that, there was a table where a few women were selling TVOKids tshirts. The adult shirts were a lovely green with “Where’s Polkaroo?” in big letters on the front, along with a picture of the character. I really wanted one; sadly, this was the one time during the day where I really wished that I had money with me to spend.

Nearby, I stumbled upon some things that I hadn’t been expecting, but it was a fabulous surprise: the Polka Dot Door, as well as the storytime clock and chair! I was half-expecting to find Storytime Mouse on the ground, but I guess that would be too hard to lose outside with such a large number of people. For a moment – just one, mind you – I thought about grabbing a picture book and sitting down in the chair, reading to a group of smal children. It was such a flash to the past, making me think about all of the episodes that I watched as a kid, and all of the books that were read alongside those props. And how could you ever ignore that door?! There were people just walking past it as if it wasn’t there, and yet I couldn’t help myself, I was so excited about seeing an artifact from my childhood so up close and personal. It was lovely!

At this point, my friend decided that she’d had enough for the day and headed home. I still had a few things that I wanted to make it for, though, so I hopped right on over to the Digital Drive Stage to catch the very end of Neil Pasricha‘s talk about the blog-to-book phenomenon. I didn’t get to hear much of it, but what I did hear was great. One thing that definitely stuck in my mind was when he said that we don’t blog for ourselves, we blog for other people.

Next up was the panel I was really looking forward to: Magazines and Comic Books in the Digital Age. The panel speakers for this one, from left to right in the picture, were Conor McCreery (co-creator of Kill Shakespeare), Brian Joseph Davis and Emily Schultz (co-creators of Joyland), and Matthew Fox (online editor of Toronto Life). I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this panel, but the topic sounded timely and caught my attention.

The most interesting thing for me, I think, was hearing McCreery talk about how the internet has brought about positive changes for the comics industry. You hear so much about it being the other way around, that the internet is damaging for graphic works, so it was nice to hear something from the flip side. One of the more obvious – and yet, often overlooked – points he made was about the colouring difference between digital and print. He pointed out that many comics artists create their work on the computer these days, then send it off to be printed, and are then disappointed because the colours don’t come out the same as they had envisioned them on the screen. The great thing about digital comics distribution is that there is colour integrity: that is, the comic that you’re reading looks exactly like the comic that the author created. Unrelated to the “digital” side of things, I also found it interesting when the panelists noted that comics are the last real serialized genre in the publishing world, and that there’s a positive side to delayed gratification, having to wait to find out how something will happen. I really enjoyed the rest of the speakers as well, but this aspect of the topic currently feels most relevant to my interests.

At the end of that panel, I zoomed over to the Scotiabank Giller Prize Bestsellers Stage to listen to a discussion titled The Power of Story. This was basically a discussion about the ways in which writing – fiction and non-fiction – can be an important part of the process of grieving, understanding atrocities, learning to cope, and helping victims. Kim Echlin (author of The Disappeared, which deals with the Khmer Rouge massacre in Cambodia) and Marina Nemat (author of Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran) did an absolutely fantastic job of this discussion. It felt like Nemat took over for most of the time they had, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; they both had interesting and useful things to say about the healing powers of storytelling, and great answers to audience questions. Nemat in particularly had some really interesting things to say, which I will be talking about soon, when I review After Tehran.

The last session of the day, for me, was Reviewing the Reviewers, put on by the Toronto Star. In the next tent over, the headliner event was going on – featuring none other than Yann Martel – who seemed to be drawing most of the audience. Once the massive number of people who had cleared out of the previous session left the tent, we were left to start the discussion on book reviewing with a fairly small group of people. It was actually rather nice, and turned into more of an informal storytelling session than anything. Later in the hour, more people joined us, but it was a fairly quiet session.

There were three men – surprise, surprise – on the panel: Vit Wagner, Nathan Whitlock, and Dan Smith. Most of the discussion came from Smith and Whitlock, while Wagner seemed rather quiet for the most part, but jumped in from time to time with an interesting story or point of view to share. The most important point that they all seemed to agree on was that you should never base your decision on whether or not to read a book on what you’ve read in someone’s review. There was lots of other commentary about reviewing, non-reviews (when a “review” is almost completely plot summary or information about the author), making mistakes, and the internal politics of the print reviewing industry/community as well. Once the floor was opened up for audience questions, someone asked how they would get their book reviewed by the Star. Smith’s response got quite a few laughs (as well as a mention on Whitlock’s blog), once he realized that she was talking about a self-published book: “Not with a ten-foot pole.”

I also got to ask the panel a question about the co-existence of traditional print reviews and book blog reviews, but I’ll be leaving that one to be discussed later this week!

So … all in all, I had a lovely time at this year’s Word On The Street. Did you get to go? What/who did you see/meet? If you aren’t from the area, what part of the festival do you think you would’ve enjoyed the most? Do you have an event like this locally?

6 thoughts on “The Word On The Street: Toronto 2010”

  1. Sounds like a great event, and so much bigger than the Halifax one! Too bad you had no money… but congrats on surviving the ban. Sigh. I failed at WotS Halifax 🙁

    1. Indeed, bigger than most of the other ones that happened on Sunday, but from what I’ve read on the blogs in the last couple of days, they all had their high points!

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