Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Toronto Star: Toronto Public Library launches new map as a gateway to the city’s literary hotspots

There’s a new way to navigate the stacks at the Toronto Public Library — by neighbourhood.

A new map from the city’s librarians connects books, both fiction and non-fiction, with the real-world Toronto neighbourhoods they take place in.

“It does give us a sense of community, I think and it connects us better to our city. We’re hoping it encourages people to read more items that are set in their city or their particular neighbourhoods,” said Mary-Beth Cirk, one of the librarians in charge of the project.

The map features book lists for 19 Toronto neighbourhoods from Don Mills to Downtown and was the result of a year of consultation with staff members throughout the library system. It was inspired by a talk from Imagining TorontoAmy Lavender Harris, author of Imagining Toronto and an expert on Toronto’s literary landscape.

Harris praised the map as a way of not only helping people understand Toronto, but also of potentially attracting more readers to Toronto’s literature, which is heavily studied outside the country, according to Harris.

“Factually, Toronto has a huge literature — there are thousands of literary works set in Toronto and there are more being published every year,” said Harris. “Our literature is actually far better known outside of Toronto than in the city.”

The books on the library’s list are wide-ranging in genre and form. Some are graphic novels, while others, like Bad Seeds: The True Story of Toronto’s Galloway Boys by TorontoStarreporter Betsy Powell, are non-fiction. Much of the map, though, is concerned with literature set in Toronto, which Harris says often contains a common theme.

“The first thing that strikes me about Toronto literature is how we deal with culture, culture and difference,” said Harris. “I think that is the biggest thing that books about Toronto help us get into. In Toronto we can talk about hockey and the weather but we shy away from conversations about what's different between us, what makes us uncomfortable about each other.”

Harris pointed to M.G. Vassanji’s No New Land, a novel set in Thorncliffe Park and Dar es Salaam that tells the story of new immigrants coming from Africa to suburban Toronto.

“Literature helps us have conversations about culture and difference that I don’t think any other venue does,” she said.

Writing about Toronto is rooted in explorations of multiculturalism. One of the earliest fictional representations of Toronto — John Galt’s 1831 work Bogle Corbet — emphasizes the meeting of different cultures in its discussion of the city.

“Society never betters itself without new ingredients …Where emigrants of different degrees and trades mingle, they do well, and everything about them becomes promising,” wrote Galt of the city.

Some of the books tackle Toronto’s favourite symbols, like the CN Tower.

“As the structure formerly known as the world’s tallest freestanding lies in the lake waiting for news of a better day, there’s heated talk among the other buildings, a debate that rages around whether the tower can’t get up or won’t get up,” writes Darren O’Donnell in Your Secrets Sleep with Me, a surreal exploration of the city in which its beloved tower tumbles into the lake.

The map that the library created is a living thing, said Cirk, and will be updated if they receive additional suggestions.

“We’re hoping that people who live in these neighbourhoods will see the list and say ‘Oh, you missed such and such,’” she said.


Article by Tim Alamenciak for the Toronto Star

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