Inspire: Toronto International Book Fair

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Imagine a huge room — and I mean a huge room — filled from one end to the other with books, people who love books, things related to books, and organizations that are devoted to advocating for reading and literacy.  Yep. It makes me swoon, too.

This weekend marked the first edition of Inspire! Toronto International Book Fair, which took place at the Toronto Metro Convention Centre. The inaugural event boasted big names from both the Canadian and International publishing worlds, among them Margaret Atwood, Anne Rice, Andrew Pyper, and Amanda Lindhout (to name only a few).

Full disclosure, I was reluctant about this event. Its timing so close to the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) struck me as a conflict with an already established (and well-loved) festival. However, the stellar line-up, inexpensive ticket price ($15 for the entire weekend), and promise of “hundreds of great books and booths” lured me in. The fair also won me over with a First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literary Circle, which brought some of the most beloved Aboriginal storytellers from around Canada to Toronto.

Inspire! had a lot of things to see, a lot to read, and many people to talk to, including some familiar faces from Hamilton, including the Hamilton Public Library, Project Bookmark Canada, and Telling Tales. Unfortunately, unlike Word on the Street and other fairs that showcase books and book culture, there weren’t many deals to be had. However, I did come home with a subscription to the Canadian Children’s Book News, an Owl Magazine t-shirt (with the magazine’s vintage logo), a handful of holiday picture books to give as Christmas gifts (including two copies of The Snowy Day because it’s the best), and a wealth of picture books from Good Minds, including a handful by Michael Kusugak and Christy Jordan-Fenton.

I really enjoyed my time at the fair, but it had a few problems, which I’ll attribute to being the growing pains of a new festival. The signing policy was incredibly restrictive compared to most book festivals I’ve been to, and since I wasn’t given a programme (and signage was lacking), I found it difficult to know which authors were reading and signing when.

All that said, the panels I did stumble upon were fantastic. A particular favourite was the Canadian Author’s Association panel on self-publishing, featuring the always-charming Terry Fallis talking about the different types of editing. (Any recognition that there are different types of editing and different skill sets needed for each makes this editor swoon!)

The biggest problem I think was that Inspire! didn’t encompass all the fun of Canada’s literary culture. It felt very corporate. Very tradeshow. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing — I expected it. But I do hope the fair expands its programming in the coming years to better include the book bloggers, reviewers, and critics who play such a crucial role in the book biz. I would have loved to see a panel featuring local book blogging or a panel on the literary landscape through the most-recent CWILA numbers.

All that said, I can’t wait to attend the Toronto International Book Fair next year. The diverse programming and wonderful location have me hooked. My favourite part of the entire fair was the Spontaneous Prose at the CBC booth where after supplying a topic, title, or first line, Kaile H. Glick (seated at a typewriter) wrote personalized prose. And some of the booths were incredible (I’m looking at you, Simon and Schuster and Random House). It took everything in me not to choose a good book and curl up in one of Simon and Schuster’s impeccably designed rooms.


  1. Books and a Skyriter. You can't go wrong with those.

  2. Good review. I would like to add about "bargains and freebies." The Horror Writers Association had a free draw every day at two for a bag of books. We also held a draw for free books after our panel, The Canadian Horror Story on the Discovery Stage. And we gave away free candy! We did our best to provide a good experience even though we're not publishers but a writer's group.


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