It isn’t often that this porcupette gets a chance to venture beyond the walls of her cluttered home office to attend all of the wonderful and varied book events taking place in the big city. The several hour commute kinda makes it cost—and time—prohibitive. But when the opportunity does arise, the hours of travel are always absolutely worth it, as it was when I had to the great pleasure of attending the Small Press Book Fair at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto.
For me, the journey actually started a day early—on Friday, when I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to catch the 5:30 a.m. train. Now before we go on, let me tell you this about myself: I am not a morning person. Waking up before 8:00 a.m. is to me something akin to cruel and unusual punishment, and I have been known to vaguely refer to any hour before 9:00 a.m. as “stupid o’clock in the morning” and leave it at that. But with an afternoon meeting set for Friday, there was nothing to be done except suck it up and hope to sleep on the train.
Yeah. That didn’t happen. Between the running lights, the coffee service, and the chatty seatmate, I pretty much resigned myself to resembling the barely-waking dead for the rest of the day. Cut to 7:30 a.m. Saturday as I rush around a friend’s house on the Danforth trying to get ready in time to find my way to the Fisher on approximately eight hours of sleep in two days. Surprisingly, it was all good until I got to St. George Station, where I promptly found out that it was raining and I had no umbrella. But even that couldn’t dampen my mood as I made the short walk to the Fisher Rare Book Library.
I have been to the Fisher before—a field trip in grad school had a small group of us gazing up at the stacks from the reading room, basking in the view of thousands of beautiful, precious books in stunned fascination. I was no less impressed this time, and that first punch of admiration was no less intense.
But we had a job to do: unpacking and displaying books for the fairgoers to view—and hopefully purchase. We made short work of that, as our Fearless Leader is clearly a pro when it comes to these sorts of events. In a few minutes, we had a pretty darned professional looking setup, with tiered displays, catalogues, bookmarks, even a “mascot” created by poet and artist Leon Rooke, entitled “Still in Business.” Colourful and quirky—just like Tim.
Then, the doors open and the crowds descended. I was surprised at how well attended the event was—this was a small press fair, after all! But the event had been publicized very well, and people were generally willing to slog through the deluge in the name of literary excellence.
We did fairly steady business, and I was happy to talk to all of the fellow book lovers who had come to the fair. I’m always fascinated to see which books people pick up, which ones they flip through a few times, which ones they hold on to and ultimately purchase. I’m one of those rare publishing people who hasn’t worked in a real, honest-to-goodness bookstore, so I was fascinated with this small insight into the book buyer’s mind.
On this particular day, anything visual and graphic seemed to be a hit. Rosemary Kilbourn’s Out of the Wood seemed popular, as did many works by George Walker. The Devil’s Artisan was another draw, finding some interest with all of these book-minded people.
The social aspect of the fair was great. I was happy to be able to meet some great really interesting people at the fair. Tim introduced me to Will Reuter, legendary bookmaker and visionary at The Aliquando Press and later, made it a point to introduce me to Stan Bevington, Coach House Books’ man-behind-the-curtain, who stopped by to check on the show. Fellow Coach House denizens Evan Mundy and Alana Wilcox were our next door table mates—very friendly and super nice, as expected! Jack Illingworth, former PQL intern, lately of the Literary Press Group of Canada, and now the Ontario Arts Council’s new literature officer, was another person I was glad to finally meet.
We also had several familiar faces to keep us company. Author and PQL graphic novels editor George Walker was at the table to our right, and he and his lovely wife Michelle certainly kept me entertained during the lulls. Devil’s Artisan editor and Robarts Library guru Don McLeod was there to lend a hand as well, definitely teaching me a thing or two about the books we were selling and saving my bacon when it came to the VISA orders on an old-school manual credit card thingy, which honestly does not appear to have a word in my vocabulary. (He also took me on a fantastic tour behind the scenes of the Robarts Library—but more on that in an upcoming post.) Fiction editor Chandra Wohleber, AKA one of the nicest ladies in existence, came to chat. Several authors stopped by to say hello, too—Alec Dempster, JonArno Lawson and Leon Rooke—and it was wonderful to finally put faces and voices to the names I’ve been hearing about for months.
Of course, there had to be a few entertaining stories—our Fearless Leader has a seemingly endless supply of anecdotes about some of Canada’s literati. He’s a fantastic storyteller, with a sense of drama and timing that had me alternately holding my breath and giggling like mad.
I left the fair at closing time, exhausted but in high spirits, high on books and book people and big city and just generally excited for the next event, which I can only hope will be as much fun.