Book launches are like birthday parties: some people look forward to them, some people dread them, there’s lots of spotty wine and a good time ends up being had by most. Literary festivals are like family reunions: the same mix of anxiety and anticipation, even greater quantities of spotty wine, and a schedule of events and people to see that’s so large as to be unmanageable. The International Festival of Authors is one of the biggest such events in existence, bringing authors from around the world, stretching over 11 days each fall in Toronto, and this year expanding its programming to 13 other communities in Ontario. So which of the dozens and dozens of events are worth your literary dollar? Here are eight not to be missed:
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(Reading: Kelly Braffet, Aleksandar Hemon, Sam Lipsyte, Grazyna Plebankek. Oct. 25) The best bet here is Sam Lipsyte, author of the savage satires Home Land and The Ask, and one of the funniest writers alive. There’s no better way to experience his brand of bleak humour than hearing him read it in his piercing, raspy, anxious voice. You’ll be so uncomfortable you’ll laugh.
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(Reading/Interview: Aleksandar Hemon. Oct. 26) Aleksandar Hemon is a remarkable writer, and his new book, The Book of My Lives, culminates in his most personal work yet, a long essay called “The Aquarium” about his young child’s illness. You may have read an earlier version of it published in The New Yorker. Here, he joins CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel for what promises to be a revealing interview.
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(Artist Talk: Rachel Kushner. Oct. 27) Author of the buzziest American novel of the year, The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner arrives shortly after being named a Guggenheim Fellow and a finalist for the prestigious National Book Award in the U.S. The likelihood of your being awarded a major literary prize or grant will be significantly increased by attending this talk, in which Kushner shares the secrets of her winning ways.
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(University of British Columbia Anniversary Celebration: Théodora Armstrong, Joseph Boyden, Steven Galloway, Wayne Grady, Ann Ireland, Ania Szado. Oct. 29) UBC’s creative writing program is 50 years old, which doesn’t seem like all that long until you realize that the Canadian novel as we know it was basically invented during that window. Here, graduates and faculty read from their work, proving once again that writers have a rather subdued notion of word “celebration.” Watch for Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo, who’ll perhaps share something from his highly anticipated new novel, due out next year.
RICHARD LAM/The Globe and Mail
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(Reading/Interview: Anne Carson. Oct. 30) Anne Carson, Canadian genius, gives a rare public appearance in support of her recent book, Red Doc , the “sequel” to her classic novel-in-verse, Autobiography of Red. There’s nothing quite like an Anne Carson reading, which can be by turns baffling, heartbreaking, haunting and requiring of audience participation.
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(Reading/Interview: Eleanor Catton, Rupert Thomson. Oct. 31) Eleanor Catton, the Canadian-born, New Zealand-bred, 28-year-old winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, has four events during the festival, three in Toronto and one in Windsor. Here she’ll be interviewed alongside the fascinating English novelist Rupert Thomson in an intimate setting – probably your best chance to get to know a Booker winner this year.
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(Round Table: Rewriting the Rules of Family. S. Bear Bergman, Alison Wearing. Nov. 2) A break from the festival’s common format of literary fiction readings, this panel presents two writers documenting the ways in which our notion of family is changing. Alison Wearing, whose memoir recounts growing up with a gay father, joins the smart and funny S. Bear Bergman, an activist and speaker on transgender issues, whose new essay collection, Blood, Marriage, Wine, and Glitter, hits that perfect funny-sad sweet spot.
JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail
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(Round Table: Leading Men. Colum McCann, Philipp Meyer, George Pelecanos. Nov. 3) This blockbuster panel, featuring three writers at the top of their games, promises a bit of everything. McCann, best known for Let the Great World Spin, which won the National Book Award and the IMPAC Dublin award, joins Pelecanos, an exceptional crime novelist and writer and producer of The Wire, and Meyer, the author of one of my favourite novels of the year, The Son, to discuss how they create their characters.