Sunday, August 09, 2009

15 Toronto Books in 15 Minutes

I did a general version of this meme a while back, but Amy Lavender Harris, valiant champion of Toronto literature, tagged me with this Toronto-centric version on Facebook, and of course I can't resist.

Here are her instructions:

"NB: I've altered this meme to focus on Toronto literature and tagged 15 people.

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag some friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose."

And here is my selectively annotated response:

1. L.M. Montgomery, Jane of Lantern Hill.

This novel probably provided my first encounter with Toronto. It is often described as if the portrait of Toronto in it is unremittingly negative, simply a foil to the delights of Prince Edward Island. But even at its most negative, Grandmother's crumbling gothic Toronto, it is rather compelling. And let's not forget that Jane does find a Toronto neighbourhood, and house, to love at the end (apparently one modeled on LMM's own house in Swansea).

2. Morley Callaghan, Such is My Beloved.
3. Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels.

I don't think Toronto is explicitly named as the setting in either of these novels, and reading them before having been here, I didn't recognize the city. But both are old favourites and I'm keen to reread them now that I know Toronto well.

4. William Burrill, Hemingway: The Toronto Years.

I also read this one before setting foot in Toronto, and read it to learn about Hemingway not about Toronto, being totally caught up in the lost generation at the time. Again though, I'd like to reread it for the insights it has to offer into Toronto in that period.

5. Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride.
6. Dennis Lee, Civil Elegies.
7. Katherine Govier, Fables of Brunswick Avenue.
8. Russell Smith, How Insensitive.

I like to get acquainted with a new city through its literature and for that reason I sought out a lot of Toronto books shortly after I moved here. These four (two novels, a story collection, and a book of poetry) were standouts.

9. Rosemary Sullivan, Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen.
10. Rosemary Sullivan, The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out.
11. Douglas Fetherling, Way Down in the Belly of the Beast: A Memoir of the Seventies.

I read these two biographies and this memoir when doing a bit of research into literary Toronto in the sixties and seventies. Each brought different aspects of that time, place, and subculture vividly to life.

12. Maureen Jennings, Except the Dying.
13. Pat Capponi, Last Stop Sunnyside.

Good crime fiction is often lauded for the sense of place it evokes. These two, each the first in a series, illuminate very different Torontos: Victorian Toronto in Jennings' Inspector Murdoch mysteries, and contemporary Toronto (particularly Parkdale) from the perspective of those disenfranchised by poverty and mental illness in Capponi's Dana Leoni series.

14. David Gilmour, A Perfect Night to Go to China.
15. Howard Akler, The City Man.

And finally two recent Toronto novels that I particularly liked and admired. I wrote about the former here, and the latter here.

I won't tag anyone, but I do invite my Toronto friends to join in and list their favourites. And for those of you from elsewhere who are perhaps not so familiar with Toronto literature, how about adapting the meme to showcase the literature of your city or region for the benefit of those of us who like to travel through books?


litlove said...

I really must read Robertson Davies. I'd love to do a meme about Cambridge books, but I can't think of 15! I'll have to scale it down a bit.

Amy Lavender Harris said...

Great list! I've never read Jane of Lantern Hill [shameful given my thoroughly Maritime background] but will look it up today. I'm told a number of Montogmery's later books engage with Toronto, particularly after she moved here. I get the sense that her descriptions of the city are offered as a kind of projection for the things she cannot write about her unhappy marriage.

Sullivan's biography of MacEwen is wonderful and sad.

Jennings and Capponi both write good detective fiction. Toronto's a hotbed of literary noir.

Toronto even appears in at least one Harlequin romance novel: Rosemary Aubert (who went on to success with her Ellis Portal mysteries) published Firebrand in 1985 -- a romance novel with a political angle. If I recall correctly the protagonist and the mayor get it on in his office.

Kailana said...

Good stuff! I don't know if I could think of 15 for where I live. It would have to be the whole province. I will have to think about it.

Anonymous said...

Alias Grace. Also in crime fiction, Maureen Jennings' series set in 1890's Toronto (the tv show Murdoch Mysteries is surprisingly fun and wry.)

Zoey Kruger said...

Hmmm... I think you just inspired me to read a few more book. I'm not sure if I could name 15 =/