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

Litographs: Word-shaded art


I first learned about Litographs at the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Light Bash. Their posters were part of the swag bags given to guests at the end of the night. There were a variety of options from Moby Dick to Alice in Wonderland, however, I was lucky enough to get my hands on the Pride and Prejudice one.

pride and prejudice posterIf you can’t figure out why one would get excited over a poster then you have never seen one of Litograph’s designs. To the left, you can see my poster inspired by the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice. It’s gorgeous, right? Not only is it gorgeous, it is made entirely out of words, which are completely legible! Every Litograph design emerges from the text of a book. They use the words from the book itself to illustrate the memorable characters and scenes we have all imagined when reading one of our favourite books.

Litographs specializes not just in posters, but will place the same design on tote bags and t-shirts (for both men and women). You can watch their video here, detailing how they make their t-shirts.  All of the Litograph products come with a choice or colour from black and white to green or purple, and they are all printed locally in Cambridge, MA.

Another great thing about Litographs is their choice in books. They don’t just go the classics and instead have a varied list of book options for every book lover out there. Their genres include American Lit, British Lit, Children’s, Epics, Essay Collections, Mystery, Nonfiction, Plays, Poetry, Sci-fi Fantasy, Science, Shakespeare, and Story Collections. Recently, Litographs has also just started a chain of literary tattoos, which you can opt in to be a part of. I am eagerly awaiting their actual temporary tattoo line.

Litographs wuthering heights toteSince I already have a poster, I have now been eyeing their Wuthering Heights tote design. It is quite whimsical with the view from the window.

However, Litographs is always coming up with new designs, and if you subscribe to their newsletter they will notify you every time a new design is available to purchase. Their most recent addition is that of the Time Traveler’s Wife, and it is giving Wuthering Heights a run for its money. I especially like Litographs time traveler's wife designit as a t-shirt.

You can browse their collection here and see for yourself the endless options. Litographs would definitely make a great present for any book lovers you know or it would also make a great gift for yourself. We all need a little spoiling now and then, and I definitely like the idea of art lovingly made from the words that have brought me joy. What could be better?





Books on shirts. Shirts on a mission: Out of Print Clothing

20140413_204437Out of Print Clothing is a stock favourite for my one-stop shop needs when it comes to book themed items. While I’ve only bought one shirt from them so far, I have no doubt my collection will continue to grow.

Out of Print’s products specialize in the literary classics, with the additional book that just has a great cover and is awesome in general, if not considered among the canons. But if it is a canon of literature, Out of Print probably sells it in a variety of fun forms: t-shirts, long sleeves, jewellery, pouches, tote bags, coasters, and even phone cases. It is book nerd/English major heaven.

Dana Francoeur in a Jane Eyre t-shirt from Out of Print ClothingAs you can see, I purchased the Jane Eyre t-shirt. Asking me to choose a favourite book is nearly impossible, but Jane Eyre is definitely up there. What also won me over to the shirt was the whimsical illustration. Not only do we have Jane’s wind-blown figure, but we have Mr. Rochester riding his magnificent steed in the background, foreshadowing their inevitable first meeting near the beginning of the book (see images above for a better view). An absolutely stunning display anyone would be proud to clothe themselves in, especially me.

On top of having an amazing line of clothing to choose from, for men, women, and kids alike, Out of Print also has a great mission behind its love of wearing book covers. Acknowledging the fact that not everyone has access to all the great book we so easily take for granted, Out of Print works alongside Books for Africa to make a difference and literally spread the word! For each product sold, Out of Print donates one book to a community in need. Therefore, not only is Out of Print assisting all of us in our book obsession, but we are also providing funding for a good cause in the process. Money well spent, I say! It especially works well as a go-to gift idea for that book maniac in your life, whether it’s a sibling or a significant other.

So if you’re a fan of Jane Austen, Scott Fitzgerald, or Charles Dickens then check out Out of Print’s website and see what other authors’ books they have made wearable. It is worth the look and worth the purchase if you love books and love doing some good at the same time.

After all, isn’t it a “feel good” spoil yourself at the same time kind of day?


These are the two goodies I have my eye on now. Aren’t they just splendid!? The one to the left is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (there is also a t-shirt version of this in two different colours) and the one to the right is Little Woman by Louisa Marie Alcott (I just adore how she is made up of smaller women in the print!).

Out of Print clothing


The inauguration day of Toronto’s new lit fest: Pages Festival + Conference

logo for pages festivalThere are a lot of people who will claim that festivals celebrating books and publishing are fading out of existence. However, with the rise of a new festival on the literary scene, the written word seems just as popular as it was the day Gutenberg invented the printing press!

The evening of March 13, 2014, I attended the official launch day of the inaugural Pages Festival + Conference: Unbound, hosted at the Randolph Theatre in Toronto.

Because it was the first festival event, there were various speeches, introductions, and expressions of gratitude that had to be given at the beginning. The main spokesman on behalf of the festival committee was the artistic director of This is Not a Reading Series, Marc Glassman, who was also the proprietor of the bookstore Pages Books & Magazines on Queen Street West in Toronto for 30 years. Glassman was the one who founded the festival with the objective to explore the “evolving word” in the digital age.

It was during this interlude that I took the time to look around, and I noticed that besides myself and maybe ten to fifteen other audience members, the majority of the night’s spectators was made up mostly of an elderly crowd. I quickly found out why with Glassman’s introduction of Bob Bossin: folksinger, activist, writer.

banner of Bob Bossin

My attendance of the festival having been a last minute decision after a long day at work, I was unaware of the musical and historical delights the night had in store for me. It seemed that everyone in the audience knew who Bob Bossin was but me. However, it didn’t take long to realize that he was a man with a few interesting stories to tell and some catchy tunes to sing.

Davy the Punk book by Bob BossinThe book he has written is called Davy the Punk and is a narrative about the life of his father, Davy, who turned out to be a lot more than just a father figure. Referred to as “Davy the Punk” by those he worked with, Davy, unbeknownst to his son at the time, was an intimate part of Toronto’s gambling underworld in the 1930s and 40s, and one of Toronto police’s most elusive quarry.

While I haven’t read the book myself, I was fascinated by the small excerpts Bob gave us, from free baseball tickets magically being given to his uncle and new bride to unsuccessful police raids on his father’s place of business. Bob’s renditions truly brought the era to life through his manner of expression and his Godfather-like “gangster” impressions. His personal investment in his father’s story was evident throughout the night and during the conversational interview held between him and former Premier, classmate, and old friend, Bob Rae.

But perhaps the most memorable part of the evening was when Bob Bossin reunited with his 1970s Stringband and played old favourites that had the audience singing along.The folksongs were simple enough to pick up, and I found myself easily joining inBob Bossin and the Stringband with the rest of the crowd. I think my favourite song of the evening had to be “Show Us the Length” — crude and catchy, I was chuckling to myself and humming the song long after the performance was over. I now wish I had thought to record it, but if you’re interested in hearing clips of the Stringband’s music you can check it out in the Jukebox section of Bob Bossin’s personal website <>, and it thankfully includes my favourite (which you will have to listen to yourself to discover why I find it so  utterly amusing).

Although I wasn’t able to get a book that evening (I wasn’t exactly relishing the idea of battling the older crowd intent on reminiscing and getting their books signed), I definitely recommend checking this title out, especially for its rich take on local history where “Toronto the Good” shows its darker side.

While I wasn’t able to attend any other festival days, there is no doubt in my mind that each was as delightfully entertaining in its own way with more author events alongside panel discussions during the day-long conference.

If you are interested in learning more about the Pages Festival + Conference, you can learn more about it on their website, Facebook page, or Twitter.

Also, if you are as intrigued by Bob Bossin’s book as much as I am, you can get a copy at The Porcupine’s Quill, Indigo, Amazon, or independent bookstores.