Get INSPIRED!: Toronto’s inaugural international book fair

INSPIRE book fair

Since the announcement of a new international book fair INSPIRE!, there has been a lot of speculation — some positive and some negative. Being fairly new to the publishing industry, however, I was eager to get involved and see where this book fair would take us.

2014-11-16 14.10.27But volunteering for an inaugural event has its own challenges. Everyone involved is learning as they go, addressing problems when they happen, and basically flying by the seat of their pants. Thankfully, I was surprised by the level of organization. Besides myself, there had been an overwhelming response of volunteers, so the fair was rarely, if ever, short on staff.

2014-11-15 13.37.33Free access to the fair was one of the highlighting perks for being a volunteer. No scanning fuss for us! Our blue volunteer t-shirts were a “get up the escalator” free card. The themed decor of the venue was quite extravagant. Going up the escalator, you were surrounded by a a stunning display of dangling alphabet letters and cardboard books, which almost reached the floor below. At the very top of the escalator, you were then greeted by vintage presses from various decades. They were definitely a type of “porn” for the book publishing enthusiast. Around the book fair there was also comfy rest spots sporting sofas and multi-coloured zebras to keep you company while you lounged.

2014-11-15 13.57.20However, the INSPIRE! team weren’t the only creative bunch during the fair. Many publishers went all out in decorating their booths for the weekend-long event. Simon and Schuster Canada‘s booth was breathtaking with its house-like interior, moving from room to room. I especially loved the mattress of books in the bedroom and the beautiful book sculptures descending from the ceiling. If they had been for sale, I don’t think I could have helped myself. Simon and Schuster staff on hand told me a co-worker’s friend had made them. A talented friend, indeed.

2014-11-15 13.28.43Penguin Random House Canada also had a beautiful booth filled with books, an author-signing table, and decor reminiscent of walking into Indigo’s lifestyle store areas. There was a lot of profile-worthy wall of Penguin classics to take your picture in front of, which I took full advantage of.

Aside from the big-name publishers, the little guys were  also well-represented. While they weren’t as over-the-top, they held their own with their books doing the eye-catching for them. From indie publishers to self-publishers, there was plenty to look at it in the exhibitor marketplace alone. The scholarly section wasn’t very well filled out, however, I was happy to see my old friends at Wilfrid Laurier University Press advertising their wares, including their successful Life Writing series. I especially enjoyed flipped through the titles I had had a hand in developing during my brief stint there as a publishing assistant.

2014-11-15 15.10.22Throughout the day, INSPIRE! also had a great line-up of stage and off-stage events. There were authors of cook books giving cooking tutorials, author interviews on the INSPIRE! Main Stage, as well as a TD Children’s Stage. Notably, there was a First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literary Circle, which drew a lot of attention with its promotion of sharing, collaboration, and dialogue. One was able to discover Aboriginal authors, poets, and storytellers in a very inviting setting. And of course Penguin Random House had its own authors, including the infamous Chris Hadfield, where people sported stick-on versions of his iconic mustache.

There was definitely a lot happening, which was sometimes distracting and was to the detriment of other events occurring simultaneously. The Main Stage was overpowering at times, especially due to the size of the venue. Hopefully, solutions will be found as the INSPIRE! committee plan for next year, or the fair could benefit from a different choice of venue entirely.

All in all, I think the event was a success. In my mind, it felt like a blown-up version of the Scholastic book fairs I enjoyed so much as a child. I’ve heard that excitement around the Scholastic fair and catalogue has greatly diminished since I left the public school system, and it would be nice if this book fair helps revitalize that interest in books and book culture.

INSPIRE book fair t-shirtI would also recommend volunteering. It was a great experience. Everyone was friendly and volunteers were given breakfast goodies and pizza for lunch. Free food for free labour. I think that is a pretty good deal, and one that isn’t offered all the time when volunteering. The free t-shirt is also a great plus. Fairgoers were also fans of them, as volunteers were continuously asked where they could be purchased. If you were one of the attendees who wanted one, consider volunteering next year. In my opinion, this fair could have a bright future if the few kinks found this year are worked out and improved on. Perhaps the publishers who stayed away this year will join in now that INSPIRE! has left behind its foreshadowed failure and become a part of the busy annual fall season of the publishing biz.

INSPIRE international book fair

A big screen improvement: A review of Mockingjay Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1

Starring  Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland.

*some spoilers*

If you read my post on the Mockingjay book then you probably know that I’m not a big fan of the third and final book in the trilogy.  For once, I finally hoped the movie could do something to spice it up a little and, for the most, I wasn’t let down.

Mockingjay Part 1 never went too far off course. Katniss was still very much contained in District 13’s bunkers, only emerging on occasion to do propaganda shots and visit other districts, but somehow the movie made you forget that fact. I wasn’t bored the same way I had been reading the first half of the book.

The living-flesh Katniss played by Jennifer Lawrence was definitely a less dead-paned version when compared to the one we had to listen to all the way through the book. Her emotional distress over Peeta and hesitation over becoming the face of the rebellion is rendered in a clear and relateable fashion. We feel her pain, her pure exhaustion with the whole thing, and we also feel her fury when suddenly she responds to the horrific bombing of the hospital. We burn with her. I swear I felt goosebumps.
burn with us

PeetaJosh Hutcherson also gave an amazing performance. Considering the book is entirely from Katniss’ point of view, it was refreshing to glimpse him for ourselves and see his tortured expressions and gradual decline with every video clip’s appearance. Being part of Team Peeta, I was hooked, and Josh was wonderful in really conveying what had happened to Peeta while being held in Panem.

GaleHowever, I did notice that the movie made a remarkable change with Gale’s character. As I noted in my review of the book, Collins eliminated that conflict too easily, making Gale’s character almost dislikeable, which was unfortunate. Gale is a good person, and I think , by accident or not, Collins eliminated the reader’s empathy for him by making him too aggressive and in cahoots with District 13’s President. The film dials this “anti” back by a great deal, which serves in Gales favour. While I still love Peeta, I don’t hate Gale like the book made me want to (an unfair change for poor Gale in my opinion to begin with). This is especially made clear when Gale is given a chance in the movie to speak about what he saw the day District 12 was bombed and a level of understanding is reached between Gale and the viewer that the book and the reader didn’t achieve.

Hanging Tree, Mockingjay Part 1By now, everyone has also either seen, heard, or at least heard of the phenomenon of Jennifer Lawrence’s singing voice. While I doubt she will start belting it out on stage any time soon like some actresses (she literally cried a bit before having to shoot the singing scene, her director confided to media), Jennifer Lawrence’s simple, unaccompanied voice singing The Hanging Tree literally ricocheted through the audience. Goosebumps, again, were inevitably, especially when the chorus was taken up by the rest of the revolutionaries marching on the dam. If you want to listen to it again, like I have on more than one occasion , I’ve attached the memorable melody at the end of this post.

Of course, Mockingjay Part 1 leaves you hanging, which is to be expected. Even if you have read the book, this is upsetting. The movie was done well, which obviously leaves you wanting more. After viewing part 1, I’m dying of anticipation to see what they will do with the latter half of the book, which was better but not great either. This includes how they will progress without Philip Seymour Hoffman, who successfully brought Plutarch and his propaganda games to life.


Touchingly, Part 1 was dedicated in his memory.