Public books: What Torontonians are reading at Union Station

As a recognized National Historical Site, a testament to Canadian urban beaux-arts style, and a committed travel hub, Toronto’s Union Station is an iconic public place. Despite said accolades, it is humble and mysterious, transformed day and night by its inhabitants, as a book is transformed by its beholders’ imaginations. As such, Union Station is the perfect place to find out what people are reading in public; to sift through living bookshelves.

Fizza, familiar with the critically acclaimed and contemporary author Jonathan Safran Foer’s name, was only into the first few pages of Everything is Illuminated when I found her. And, she said, she was “already hooked!” The book, as books often do, found her. Fizza had just come from her staff Christmas party, where she received the book as part of the annual Secret Santa. However, this was no ordinary Secret Santa, but rather one with an original twist: to gift a book from one’s own personal library. With 230 pages to go and three minutes left to catch the infamously early-departing train, Fizza dashed away leaving me to look for the next book.

That next book’s reader, Nicole, I found blushing. Why the seemingly guilty look on her face? Had she been a naughty girl? She was only reading…Fifty Shades Darker, by E L James, the second installment of the series that 2012 will never live down. Nicole, a self-professed avid reader and Fifty Shades fan is about halfway through, and bashfully recommends the books. Santa’s watching.

Marlene, sometimes known as Santa, was surrounded by bags filled to the brim with gifts, but they were of no matter compared to the book in her hand. Found beaming from ear to ear, reading Comfort and Joy by India Knight, Marlene was eager to talk about the comedy that peers into the lives of a group of friends, their families, and the “funny happenings about the gifts they give.” The “fabulous” book was a gift from her husband who gifts her a book every Christmas. She “can’t wait to read more books by the same author.” So, it comes as no surprise that she recommends the “light and happy” Comfort and Joy to others.

The next book I find in transit takes its reader into the realm of murder and music in New York. Alex, a casual reader, recommends his almost finished book, Party Monsters. The tale of the New York Club Kids, by James St. James, is both “interesting and insightful.” However, reader be warned: the book, formerly published as Disco Bloodbath, “chronicles the life, essentially heavy partying, of the New York Club Kids as it progresses from extreme debauchery of the ‘it’ crowd of late 80s and early 90s New York …eventually to murder.”

After the mix of history, family, fantasy and murder, Union Station remains: a literal crossroad of transit, a bastion built for travelers, departures and arrivals, homecomings and long goodbyes. It could be the beginning of a good book.

10 books being read in Union Station:

1. Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer, soft cover, Harpercollins Publishers, 2008, Trade Paperback $13.

2. The Ice Pilots: Flying with the Mavericks of the Great White North/Blizzards, Breakdowns and Blunders in the Great White North, Michael Vlessides, D&M Publishers Inc, 2012, Trade Paperback, $17.

3. Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two of The Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy, E L James, Vintage, 2011, ebook , $9.99.

4. Over the Edge: An Alex Delaware Novel, Jonathan Kellerman, Random House Publishing Group, 2010, Mass Market Paperbound, $11.

5. See it and Say it in Spanish, Margarita Madrigal, Signet, 1981, Mass Market Paperbound, $7.50.

6. The Mortal Instruments Book One: City of Bones, Cassandra Clare, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008, Trade Paperback, $14.

7. Outlander Saga: Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon, delta (publishers) , 2001, Trade Paperback, $14.

8. Comfort and Joy, India Knight, Fig Tree, 2011, Trade Paperback, $12.

9. Big Payback: History of the Business of Hip Hop, Dan Charnas, NAL Trade, 2011, Trade Paperback, $14.

10. Party Monster: A Fabulous But True Tale of Murder in Clubland, originally published as “Disco Bloodbath,” James St. James, Simon & Schuster, 2003, Trade Paperback, $12.