"A Book is a Window to the World": Biblio Bash Guest Authors on What Libraries Mean to Them
In a city with a lot of charity galas, Biblio Bash stands out, especially for book lovers - it's the only party in town that takes place in the stacks of the Toronto Reference Library.
Through the course of a glittering evening, guests sip cocktails by the shelves, enjoy a gourmet meal, take in a slam poetry performance, and get the chance to bid on silent auction prizes like a private book club dinner with Margaret Atwood. What gets the bookworms really excited though is the cause - all proceeds go to support the Toronto Public Library, which happens to be the world's busiest public library system. This year's fundraising goal will benefit the library's programs and initiatives, including TPL's Youth Hubs, which provide Toronto youth with free access to homework help, financial literacy tutoring, and social, creative, and leadership development opportunities.
This year the bash (presented by TD) falls on April 26 and will welcome more than 43 guest authors, including recent Giller Prize winner Michael Redhill, Thomas King, Shari Lapena, and many more. We were lucky enough to speak with three of the distinguished guest authors about why they wanted to give their time and energy to supporting TPL at the event.
Internationally best selling author Linwood Barclay, Toronto Star columnist and debut author Uzma Jalaluddin, and Globe & Mail columnist and bestselling author Elizabeth Renzetti each tell us today about how libraries helped make them the incredible writers they are and the book they'd like to see in every branch.
We hear about why book a book is more than just pages bound together, that book friends > than boyfriends (we agree), and who is embracing their late fees.
The bash itself is sold out this year, but for readers who are interested in supporting TPL, you can donate online at TPL's "I'm Library People" page.
Tell us about how public libraries impacted your life as a writer and a reader.
I was somewhat disadvantaged in my teens, in that we lived way out in the country, several miles away from the closest library, so I tended to load up on cheap, pulpy paperbacks from the rotating, metal bookrack at the IGA whenever we went into town. It’s as a writer that my appreciation of libraries has grown exponentially. I’ve seen how devoted they are to their community, the work librarians go to not only to get a good book into a reader’s hands, but to organize events that connect writers directly with those readers. I think you have to be a special kind of person to work in a library, or a bookstore. You have to understand that a book is more than just pages bound together. A book is a window to the world.
I am a lifelong library fangirl. In high school, my friends used the library as a place to meet their secret boyfriends. I used it to meet new book friends, like Douglas Adams, L.M. Montgomery, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, and so many others.
If it wasn’t for the library, I wouldn’t have known that nerdy dreamers like me existed on the page, or that our stories mattered too. Through the library stacks, I travelled to distant countries, explored new worlds, lived alternate timelines and historical periods.
A childhood filled with books helped me discover my own voice. Today I write “Samosas and Maple Syrup,” a family/parenting column for the Toronto Star, and my first novel, Ayesha at Last, will be published by HarperCollins in June. My novel is a Muslim Pride and Prejudice set in a close knit Toronto community.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that libraries are real, and accessible to anyone with a library card. Plus, if you live in Toronto, they are part of every neighbourhood!
Public libraries have been essential to my life as a reader and writer. My new book, Shrewed, begins with a scene in a library, and both my books were written in part in Toronto libraries. I still do a great deal of research in them, and I borrow a lot of books - which you'd know if you saw my late fees!
Do you have a favourite library or library branch? If so, what do you love about it?
My favourite library, and the one I have probably spent more time in than any other, is Bata Library, at Trent University. I was at Trent from 1973 to 1977, but I used to hang out there even before that, when I would tag along with my brother when he went there to take one course. I would go into the library and grab huge stacks of New Yorkers and hide in a corner and read all the cartoons. When I was a student there, the library — a beautiful building, by the way, built into the shoreline of the Otonabee River — wasn’t just a place to do research and work on an essay. It was a place of congregation, a place to meet friends, to make plans. It felt, in some ways, like a home away from home.
When I was very young, my mother used to take me and my younger brother to the North York public library branch. Some of my earliest memories are of playing on the carpeted stairs and returning home with a bag full of books.
Later we moved to Scarborough, and I became a library nomad. The Malvern branch was the closest, and one of the first places I was allowed to go by myself. When I was in high school, the Cedarbrae branch was near my school. I would visit during lunch and browse through stacks of historical fiction, romance, mystery, science fiction, and old black and white movies. Once I learned to drive, I visited the Agincourt branch. When I attended the University of Toronto, I discovered the Lillian H. Smith branch on College Street, a great place to snag comic fantasy novels. At each branch, I got to know the librarians, racked up late fees, and paid them when my card was suspended.
My favourite branch is the one that is the most convenient, the one that fits my stage of life.
Bloor-Gladstone is my favourite branch. It's beautiful, useful, and welcoming to everyone in the community. And the librarians never shame me for my late fees (see above.)
If you could choose a book to be in every library branch (aside from your own work), what would it be and why?
Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners. It was the greatest work by one of this country’s finest writers. She also was a friend and a mentor, and I would like to see new readers introduced to her novels.
This question is just cruel. I think I might have an easier time picking which of my two children I love best. Just kidding. I love them both on a sliding scale, depending on which required the least amount of nagging that week. As for which book I think every branch should keep handy, I have a trio of suggestions, because every writer knows that all things must happen in threes:
1) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I read this when I was a teenager. It was one of the first satirical, funny books I ever read, and it inspired me to dig deep and write what I wanted. Because if Douglas Adams could write about a towel-wielding, tea-drinking Englishman kidnapped by space aliens who tortured him with their terrible poetry, then surely I could write funny stories about... well, pretty much anything.
2) Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan. Everyone needs to find the book that touches their heart. This novel about a black Jazz musician in Nazi Germany haunts me still, in the way that truly great novels do.
3) A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Clocking in at 1000+ pages of paperback, this delicious door-stopper of a book will look impressive on a library shelf and provide #BookGoals for ambitious readers. It was also one of the first books I read that showed POC living their lives, cracking jokes, falling in love, wrestling with their conflicting identities, all in a way that was nuanced and real without resorting to shorthand cultural stereotypes.
(Pssst… The best part about libraries is you don’t have to choose one book. Read them all!)
Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie.
Visit the Toronto Public Library Foundation website for more information about the Biblio Bash.