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August 10, 2009

T is for Toronto books

Oh, no one tagged me, but I want to play too. To join Rebecca and Kate in compiling their top Toronto books. I’m not sure I can come up with fifteen, but this is the best I can do off the top of my head. (Update: Fourteen. I’ll do my best to think of another. Update Update as inspired by Rebecca: YES! BOOKY! Update 3 see below).

1) A Big City ABC by Alan Moak: I have the original edition of this book, with Exhibition Stadium instead of the SkyDome under “B is for baseball”. And I is for island ferry indeed. The illustrations are beautiful, and I remember spending considerable time examining them closely when I was small. (This book was re-released in 2002, and will be coming out in paperback in October).

2) The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood: I love the depictions of Ward’s Island (I is for island ferry, see above) especially, but the entire book captures the city’s neighbourhoods brilliantly. I was also quite fond of the university setting when I was getting ready to become a student in Toronto myself.

3) Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood: Shows the fringes of the city back when the fringes were newly constructed bungalows in a sea of mud up around St. Clair Avenue. And the ravines! And then revisits to find the city changed by the 1980s, with grey skyscrapers that were like tombstones.

4) Headhunter by Timothy Findley: For a course I took called “Reading Toronto” in university, I read works including some Morley Callaghan, Fugitive Pieces, Alias Grace, The Swing in the Garden by Hugh Hood, and this book. I’m not cheating by stocking this list with my course syllabus, but Headhunter has to be included as it’s stayed with me ever since I read it, particularly the scenes in the Toronto Reference Library.

5) Stunt by Claudia Dey: I is once again for island ferry, and P is for Parkdale. Eugenia Ledoux’s narrative is Toronto as an underwater dream.

6) Muriella Pent by Russell Smith: The reason I ever took a walk to Wychwood Park, Smith’s most recent novel is Russell Smith the novelist coming into his own. Also notable for Brian Sillwell’s basement apartment.

7) Helpless by Barbara Gowdy: Once again, the neighbourhoods. Here is Cabbagetown, the dodgy end, portrayed as a place where people live and where community happens.

8) Girls Fall Down by Maggie Helwig: Toronto underground, in the deepest ravines and down in the subway’s depths. Helwig creates an unfamiliar city out of Toronto in the grip of panic.

9) When I Was Young and In My Prime by Alayna Munce: P is still for Parkdale, and for poetry too, Munce’s poem/fiction hybrid an extraordinarily rendered feat. Toronto stands for onward and away as the narrator grapples with her grandparents’ decline.

10) The Killing Circle by Andrew Pyper: Terrifying! And you could plot it on a map, which is Terrifying! doubly.

11) How Happy to Be by Katrina Onstad: Here is great urban fiction, undeniably set in its place. Which is Toronto ’round the turn of this century as lived in by a media/culture/cool savvy journalist who’s less savvy about where her life is headed.

12) Minus Time by Catherine Bush: I found this to be an imperfect novel with so many perfect components, one of which is its depiction of Toronto. Particularly a Toronto not-too-long-ago already lost, the Robert Street tennis courts/ice rink which had been the home of the narrator’s now-demolished childhood home. And not just because it’s around the corner from my house.

13) In The Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje: I know it’s cliched, we’re supposed to hate this book, and though I’ve loved it less with each reread, it still makes the Bloor Street Viaduct magical to me, as well as the majestic RC Harris Water Treatment Plant (which I despair they no longer offer tours of).

14) Unless by Carol Shields: Much of it takes place in a fictional small town north of the city, but the heart of it is set on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst, just across from Honest Ed’s.

15) The Booky Trilogy by Bernice Thurman Hunter

15.5) Jonathan Cleaned Up and Then He Heard a Sound (or blackberry subway jam) by Robert Munsch

5 thoughts on “T is for Toronto books”

  1. Rebecca Rosenblum says:

    I heart Brian Sillwell's basement apt. And Brian himself!

  2. Amy Lavender Harris says:

    Wow; great list. Sorry for not tagging you, Kerry! I kind of picked names at random.

    I like Moak's book, too, and plan, when my little daughter is older, to visit each site with her as a way of introducing her to the real & imagined city.

    There are many wonderful children's books set in Toronto: Barbara Nichol's Dippers, Janet Lunn's Twin Spell [loved this so much], Bernice Thurman Hunter's Booky books [I loved them, too], Cary Fagan's The Market Wedding, Barbara Reid's The Subway Mouse, Rebecca Upjohn's Lily and the Paper Man, etc. etc. … not to mention adult novels with child protagonists.

  3. Amy Lavender Harris says:

    Oops; forgot to mention Joanne Schwartz's Our Corner Grocery Store [illustrated beautifully by Laura Beingessner].

  4. alyssa says:

    I can't believe no one mentioned The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky. I always think of this book when I think of Toronto.

  5. Mum in Bloom says:

    Thanks for the great list of books. Our DD was born in TO and we visit as much as we can. I love to get kids books for her to learn about where she was born. I love requesting these books from interlibrary loan here – the librarians are always like "huh?" when I name some Canadian author or book… geesh!

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