When Margaret Atwood tweeted against library cuts in Toronto this past summer, City Councillor Doug Ford criticized the validity of her campaign: “I don’t even know her,” he said. “If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.”
Ford turned recognizing Margaret Atwood into a weird measure of the value of libraries, and cast this debate about reading as a public fame-contest. Ironically, in statements to her nearly 250,000 Twitter followers, Margaret Atwood had already brought the conversation outside, as it were. Maybe a good way to celebrate reading really is to meet her in the street. A new, entirely online quarterly, The Toronto Review of Books is here to reaffirm the value of talking about books and other products of human effort on any street corner you like.
The inaugural TRB issue includes a review of Twitter by Shawn Micallef, a review of reviewing by sociologist Phillipa Chong, and poetry by Damian Rogers and Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Icelandic MP whose subpoenaed Twitter account made headlines last winter. Filmmaker, activist, and scholar Brett Story puts political violence under review in her piece on three important new documentaries, and the TRB’s Paris correspondent Liam Considine covers a recent show of readymades at Air de Paris. Simon Reader offers a novel university calendar. Food anthropologist Dylan Gordon’s take on soba, and Russianist Tim Ormond’s encounter with Android Karenina round out the issue.
Each new issue of the TRB will cover books, online writing, and anything else our writers think deserves a second glance. Nevertheless, we’re calling ourselves The Toronto Review of Books not simply as a tribute to publications we admire, but also because we’re inspired by the diversity, eclecticism, erudition and hopeful ignorance in all libraries, and by the work and conviction that every book represents. Sitting alone in a room to write is among the more perverse, heartfelt, and optimistic of human activities. But the same is true of writing code for a beautiful website, or crafting an enthralling meme. These efforts all deserve attention, and reviews.
Likewise, readers and audiences deserve good reporting on their interests. The TRB is a collection of voices in their service, if not always from Toronto, then threaded through this city of engaged audiences, myriad traditions, and ever-expanding possibilities. The TRB’s blog, Chirograph, will feature updates on Toronto’s exploits, as well as TRB issues and events. Since reading doesn’t always need to imply looking at words on a page or a screen, the TRB podcast, hosted by CBC Radio’s David Michael Lamb, will bring listeners recordings of public lectures and panels in Toronto, authors reading their TRB articles, and the TRB’s own speakers series, City WIDEN (Workshops for Interest, Discussion, Exchange and Novelty). The WIDEN series already runs at several Toronto universities and colleges, and gathers three people from different fields to give short talks on a common theme. For each City WIDEN, the TRB will partner with like-minded organizations and institutions to explore new spaces and ideas.
So be in touch. Join us however you like. We’ve built the TRB site to be a platform for perspectives, not a monolith of editorial authority. Drop us a line, send us a video or an illustration, write us a blog post or a review, shotgun or long form. Come to an event, listen to a podcast, offer us a space, or a sidewalk or an alley where we can carry out this parade. The conversation about the value of reading is happening in the street. We’ll be there from Toronto, scattering what confetti we can in this international thoroughfare. The way is clear, our neighbourhood is yours, and our community is you.
Welcome and enjoy.