Best Of Toronto – Books

Rating: NNNNNBest non-fiction writer: Naomi KleinPhoto: Debra Freidman Fiercely committed, totally brainy and one of our most stellar exports,.

Rating: NNNNN

Best non-fiction writer: Naomi Klein

Photo: Debra Freidman

Fiercely committed, totally brainy and one of our most stellar exports, Naomi Klein has done more to bring leftist politics to a new generation than any other writer in the world, thanks to her groundbreaking book No Logo and her newspaper columns. We love Brian Fawcett for his soulful, sometimes experimental ruminations on the environment and Susan Crean for fighting for writers’ rights and spearheading a new genre of creative non-fiction, but Klein’s worldwide influence puts her at the top of the list.


In reality it’s a little more structured and less rant-filled than a traditional blog, but reading Torontoist is a pleasurable browse that doesn’t feel like a news site. Instead of the ravings of one lonely typist, editorial duties are dispersed among three people, making the entries fresh and eclectic. Like all good blogs, it has a theme: the landscape of Toronto and all the weird and wonderful things that take place therein. Entries range from shout-outs to visiting Olsen twins to commentary on the plight of Kensington’s beleaguered St. Stephen’s-in-the-Field Church. Also worthy is, edited by local cartoonist Matt Blackett , which scours the photoblog scene for the very best in local photography.

Best bookstore: Toronto Women’s Bookstore 97 Harbord, 416-922-8744

You can always find small press works, obscure poets, graphic novels and cutting-edge fiction at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library , and Pages rocks for cultural criticism and a kickass mag section, but the grand prize goes to the Women’s Bookstore . Why? Because of its commitment to community (check out the calendar of savvy programming at, its not-just-for-women stock (particularly sections on global, environmental and race issues), and, notably, because it’s managed to survive for over three decades. Ten years ago there were nearly 200 women’s bookstores on the continent now you’ll find barely 30. The secret? Intense outreach to U of T profs, resulting in the sales of books for over 130 courses. Brilliant.

Best event: Word on the Street

The International Festival Of Authors has more stars and total glitz and under Geoffrey Taylor ‘s leadership has widened its mandate and its reach in terrific ways, but we like Word On The Street for its grassroots feel. It’s free, for one thing, and just about every newspaper, mag and publisher in town sets up house outdoors to offer book lovers super deals. Plus, local writers who’ve published during the year read and sign. And you can predict the weather based on the date — it never rains.

BEST CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE: Mabel’s Fables 662 Mt. Pleasant, 416-322-0438 2939 Bloor West, 416-233-8830

Many mourn the passing of the Children’s Bookstore and admire the excellent kids’ section at Parentbooks , but over its 17 years in business, Mabel’s Fables has turned itself into the city’s best destination for children’s reading material. While any specialty store can offer a better than average selection, the key here is owner Eleanor LeFave ‘s insistence on hiring staff who are encyclopedic on the subject of kids’ books. Customers — and their children — reap the benefits.

Best novelist: Dionne Brand

What? Not Margaret Atwood ? That’s certainly what our readers have said for, well, forever. Barbara Gowdy ? Ann-Marie MacDonald ? All gifted, for sure, but our criteria here are specific. We’re naming someone who writes about Toronto in all its diversity — especially the experience of those who come here from other countries — and is fearless and pointed in her political commentary. Read What We All Long For to see what we mean. When she describes a downtown street it feels like home.


Not since the glory days of Sassy has there been a tome for teen girls with a voice anywhere near as intelligent, edgy and irreverent as our own homegrown Shameless . Since dreaming up the stylishly designed, turbo-charged mag as a senior thesis project at Ryerson, editors Melinda Mattos and Nicole Cohen have refused to treat their readers as idiot consumption-minded clones, covering everything from activism and sex advice to DIY fashion with the wit, zeal and zero-bullshit frankness of the best zines. Not only do they walk the talk by involving an editorial board of hella-smart teen girls, but their fab launch parties (featuring great girl-positive indie artists) illustrate their community-minded spirit. They’re like the amazingly cool, clever big sisters everyone wishes they had.

BEST PLACE TO BUY MAGAZINES: Pages 256 Queen West, 416-598-1447

We know a lot of you like to go to a store that’s a bona fide newsstand, but you won’t find left-field rags like Heeb and Giant Robot there. Plus, at Pages you get a superb pop cult selection and fashion rags like Vogue. No, not the Anna Wintour-tweaked rag who needs the bland English-language version when you can get the hot and edgy one published in Italy?

Best zine: 10 Reasons to riot

The title, taken from the opening poem by talented poet Annanda DeSilva sets the tone for the similarly defiant work in this radical zine produced by Supporting Our Youth-sponsored Pink Ink, a queer/trans youth writing group, and edited by spoken-word virtuoso Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. The idea, according to Samarasinha, is to capture the spirit of a the new generation of revolutionary queer and trans writers. The beautiful cover designs show why old-school zines should never be replaced by anything digital. Also worth checking out: Infiltration , the zine about going places you’re not supposed to go, and Midnight Grocery, a chapbook by dani couture that features delicious, witty observational poetry with a culinary theme.

Most valuable player: Shaun Smith

Though he’s had a strong career as a book reviewer and seller, it’s as the coordinator of Pages This Is Not A Reading Series that Smith earns a tip of our hats. Two years ago, he and collaborators Marc Glassman and Winona McMorrow figured out that a reading isn’t necessarily the way the public wants to communicate with writers. Smith took it from there to develop a fascinating roster. Look at the names of some of the series’ guests: Gene Wilder, John Sayles, Judy Chicago, Marcel Dionne. We’re sure they know how to read, but a Q&A or a staged interview definitely gives an audience more personal contact and more bang for their buck.

Brand Voices

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NOW Magazine