INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair: in which I write up some of my notes.

As this is me basically consolidating my handwritten notes into something a little more like narrative, it is a somewhat rough account.


On Thursday, with much regret and much gratitude, I left one of the most friendly and welcoming households to which I’ve ever had the privilege of being welcomed to check into the hotel where Tourism Toronto had arranged for me (and other bloggers) to stay for the duration of the Book Fair, the Renaissance Hotel. It was snowing when I emerged from Union Station, and I had a printout of Google Maps directions that was not exactly the most helpful of helpful things. I ended up going down and around a large thing called “The Rogers Centre” and heading off up a hill when a helpful Torontonian noticed me standing at a corner looking puzzled, and pointed me in the right direction.

It turns out that the Renaissance Hotel (which is part of the Marriott chain) is actually part of this thing called “The Rogers Centre.” Which was formerly known as the Skydome, and is a covered baseball stadium. The rear half of the hotel, including the hotel restaurant and several hotel rooms, overlooks the baseball pitch-field-thingy. There was some trouble getting me checked in – apparently the hotel had been informed I was arriving on the 12th, and was rather surprised to find I’d been informed to turn up on the 13th – and the nice lady at the front desk, in the tones of one granting a very great treat or especial favour, informed me that to make up for the delay they’d given me a room overlooking the baseball pitch-field-thingy. (I’m sure she used the proper word for it.)

I’m sure someone who liked baseball would have found it more of a treat. Me, I would have preferred a view of the traintracks and downtown, because it would’ve meant my room had access to natural light and fresh air. But I am Irish, and do not find much of interest in these North American games of baseball and “football.” (I can definitely see the appeal of ice hockey, though. Elegance and brutality: of such things are the best games made.)

But, on the upside: the hotel room itself had about as much square footage as the ground floor of my house. (It was at this point that I understood I was staying in a Fancy People hotel, and immediately began to fret lest they realise that I was guaranteed to Lower The Tone, and ask me to leave. No, really. I’ve stayed in a few hotels, but the vast majority of them have had space for a bed and a cupboard-sized shower-toilet-room, and not much else. I’m much more used to borrowing someone’s futon and sleeping in the office.)(This might be a case of “everything’s bigger in North America,” though.)

At this point it was 1600 local time, and I’d been invited to a “blogger meet-and-greet” in the Metro North Convention Centre for 1700. Since I hadn’t eaten lunch, and suspected dinner would be hard to come by in the convention centre, I took myself off down to the hotel restaurant-bar and enquired how long it would take them to make me a poutine. Poutine! I had never eaten it before. “Ten minutes,” the nice person said, and indeed it took no more than that.

Poutine – my reaction to it varied between what the hell is this? and this is amazing. Chips, gravy, cheese curds, topped with meat – a kind of ham that resembled a light Italian ham, but that goes by “Montreal smoked meat” in Toronto. Amazingly tasty. Really filling. You definitely know you’ve been fed, with that dish.

So, very full, I betook myself off to the convention centre, which was practically right next door. There, I made several inquiries before I was able to determine where this “blogger toast” thing was supposed to take place. Eventually I found it, only to discover that the door to the green room was still locked to keep the peons out.

While waiting, though, I made the acquaintance of Kelly from Book Riot, and soon thereafter the mother-daughter blogging team of Chapter By Chapter, also bloggers present for the book fair, at which point we’d acquired sufficient mass to get up the necessary impetus to actually knock on the door in question.

Behind the door lay members of the PR team for the book fair; a Media Relations Manager for Tourism Toronto, a lovely woman, Vanessa Somarriba by name; and (at the time) two members of the “executive team” of the book fair, Rita Davies and John Calabro, who were later joined by Steven Levy (who conversed like a man who’d already had a couple of beers for tea, but maybe that’s just a personality thing). I dubbed them “the money people” afterwards, because much of the conversation that lingered in my memory were the bits where they were talking about how they spent money like water to set it up: lots of money to get international and indigenous writers on board, approximately CAN $100,000 in honoraria for authors, and so on. They seemed quite proud – and y’know, they have a right to be – in how hard they worked to build diversity into the programme for the fair from the ground up.

Partway through this slightly-awkward conversation – small talk combined with PR talk combined with talk about people’s genuine interests – Jane of Dear Author arrived, another of the bloggers and someone who it was a great pleasure to meet. Eventually we adjourned, only to find the Book Smugglers just outside the door – I think I am getting the order of events and arrivals right, but I could be mixing things up.

Like a bloggerly hive mind, we adjourned to the actual fair floor to investigate what was on offer – and to spy out the preparations for the 1900 “Lift-Off Party” that would open the book fair proper. We were all, I think, fairly impressed with Simon & Schuster’s design aesthetic, as they’d set up their booth like the rooms of a house, complete with chairs, pots and pans, and air mattress. Poking around to get my bearings – and conversing with the other bloggers – was an awful lot of fun, but from the start I felt that perhaps the fair’s layout was not optimised for footfall, visual impact, and sales. I later learned that for the official signings, one was required to purchase the books that one wanted signed from the official signing sales booth – not elsewhere on the book fair floor, and god help anyone who wanted to bring in their own books from home. I think perhaps the organisers did not have their best thinking hats on when it came to considering the book-selling portion of the entertainment, rather than the book-celebrating.

We discovered that the Lift-Off Party was charging $6 for a cup of soft drink and $10 for a beer, and several of us – Kelly, Jane, Thea, Ana, and me, if I recall correctly – hied off to find a better place to talk and drink. Fortunately, my fellow bloggers had a place already in mind: The Library Bar. I had some ginger ale while my fellow bloggers sampled the delights of Canadian literary cocktails – and passed them round the table so that everyone could sample each once.

They’re great conversationalists, and I’ve seldom had so much fun in a den of upper-class iniquity.

And that was Thursday.

Friday morning, it had been arranged that all the bloggers would take breakfast together, courtesy of Toronto Tourism. At breakfast we were met by Vanessa, another Tourism Toronto person whose name I shamefully cannot find among my notes, and the hotel’s rep, Dominique, whose surname (and business card) I have mislaid also.

It was a breakfast of very great fantasticness. The kind of breakfast where if one mentioned one enjoyed a thing, one would find one’s plate heaped with it and perhaps the kitchen sent to for more. Salmon eggs Benedict. Bacon, lovely bacon. Sausages. French toast banana bread (to die for). Fruit. Delicious fruit. Yoghurt and tasty, tasty croissants and cheese and ham from the cold buffet. Orange juice. Sample smoothies. Basically the deluxe hospitality experience, and the kind of breakfast that would leave a body feeling full all day.

Instead of permitting us to return to our rooms to nap (a tempting option) we were ushered into a van for a tour of some of Toronto’s independent bookshops, led by Michael Kaminer, a journalist who’d written an article on those bookshops for the Washington Post. At the first bookshop, we met a group of local bloggers who would also be taking the tour with us: Ardo, Michele, Wendy, and Chandra.

Jane on INSPIRE.
The Book Smugglers on INSPIRE.
Kelly on INSPIRE.
Chapter by Chapter on INSPIRE.

So, book shop tour. It was interesting – and god, BMV and Bakka Phoenix (where we met Jeff, who it turns out is a reader of the Book Smugglers and my column), geek book heaven. Kaminer was a little bit heavily inclined towards book fetishism (“ebooks aren’t real books”) and very much not in favour of chain or online bookshops, for which my feeling is: it’s complicated.

For a city of six millions of people, it seems to have a really healthy literary/reading community.

Also, I got to get cupcakes in Almond Butterfly a second time.

On our return to the convention centre, the other flown-in bloggers went off to do their own thing in the hotel, and I found myself welcomed to lunch with the lovely local bloggers – who were very good about me essentially inviting myself along. They were great people, and showed me a great place for food called The Canteen (om nom glorious burger nom nom nom), and great conversationalists.

I kept wanting to bloody hug people in Toronto, I met so many lovely ones.

And then I returned to the convention centre for the first thing I was interested in, a main stage panel called “I Don’t Give A Damsel,” featuring Gayle Forman, E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Meg Wolitzer, focused on young adult literature. There was some initial interesting discussion of feminism, and likeable vs. unlikeable as terms applied to female characters, and whether or not this was a feminist problem: Forman said, “Imagine Sherlock [from the BBC’s Sherlock] as a woman – that would not fly.” But the panel soon devolved into a defence of the value of Young Adult literature. In itself this could have been an interesting panel, but to that audience, I doubt one needed to make an argument for YA’s worth.

The first questioner of the Q&A period was “dismayed by the preponderance of the supernatural” in Young Adult literature, and I was out of there.

4 thoughts on “INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair: in which I write up some of my notes.

  1. Fantastic recap! I loved reading about your experience in both the city and the fair. It’s a bit of a bizarre approach with the blogger toast to brag so much about all the money they spent. And this is from PR?? Odd.
    Ah, the deliciousness of The Canteen (and the gingery gingerbeer made of Weasleys!)
    That first question on that panel had us shocked too. Ardo even muttered to us, “Oh, she did NOT just ask that.”

    So lovely to have met you and you are welcome to join us for meals any time! :)

  2. Well, the bits where they talked about money are the bits that really stuck in my head, because of the incongruity, and, well, it’s tacky to talk about money unless you’re talking about how generous your backers have been… though maybe that’s just me.

    I had forgotten the gingerbeer made of Weasleys! Thank you for the memory. :)

    It was such a question! I mean, what’s wrong with the supernatural? Why would a person be dismayed?

    Likewise. And thank you. And if you ever make it to Dublin, I will be very disappointed if you don’t look me up. :)

  3. It’s ridiculous how pleased I am that you enjoyed poutine, just ridiculous. It is pretty amazing when it’s done right, and it sounds like yours absolutely was. So glad you enjoyed your time in Toronto and hope you’re able to make it back here at some point!

  4. I wouldn’t want to live on poutine, but it is pretty damn tasty.

    It would be nice to visit again… at slightly less short notice, too. :)

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