Public books: What Torontonians are reading at the Gladstone Hotel

Welcome to the Gladstone Hotel, where you can check in when you arrive, but you don’t have to leave when you check out. With such a philosophy it’s no surprise that the Victorian-era, Richardsonian Romanesque railroad stopover turned premier Art Hotel manifests Toronto’s eclectic personage. What is surprising is the natural serendipity of this Parkdale landmark, wherein old walls and contemporary art, famous guests and a cast of local regulars connect.

While many of the guests were still bundled up in their boutique rooms after their winter morning wake-up calls, the cold northern wind blew open the Gladstone’s front doors and I walked in.

Engaging as they come, the hotel café’s barkeep pointed one out: “She’s a regular. A reader.” Looking over I spotted her, accompanied by a cup of joe and the Globe. She would pass me once for coffee, a second time for pastry but eventually (third time’s a charm), she approached me: “Tolstoy, I know it…”

An early bird reader, she comes to the Gladstone for coffee and stays for conversation. She has an opinion, and a book, for every uttered thought.

Maria was reading The End of Growth, the latest from Canadian economic guru, Jeff Rubin.  She explained laissez-faire economics with ease, revealing Rubin’s “beautifully clear, concise, logical” style, despite the daunting subject matter. Maria touted Rubin’s insight of international economics and the trajectory of oil, alternatives, and the desire for growth.

As sure as the sun will rise, Maria left with the promise of return, and Amanda checked in. Another one of the Gladstone’s local cast, but with a penchant for digital devices, she was adrift with a tiger in the corner of the room. Cautioning the big cat, Richard Parker, Amanda took me aboard Canadian author Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, Life of Pi. An avid reader who enjoys reading to her partner aloud, Amanda said this book about “a boy stuck on a boat for a long time with zoo animals” is spun from the best of Martel’s self and imagination.

From one book bastion to another, I heard laughter coming from upstairs. Jumping at every creak in the floor, for fear of the resident ghost, I eventually made my way up the staircase, finding floating moustaches and surreal green tapestries of cascading plants along the way. At the top I met a flood of sunlight and two girls trying, unsuccessfully, to check out. “There’s too much to see…”

The next reader, or sprite as it seems, was definitely one with a sense for fun. A local entertaining a long lost friend, Melissa was toting the one and only Pete Townshend’s memoir, Who I Am. A fitting choice, particularly when the best part of the book is, as Melissa said, “how they got kicked out of the Holiday Inn… for life!” Who I Am’s “roadie stories, the name dropping, and of course the music” are elemental for a lifetime of Rock’n’Roll. Or perhaps a night at the Gladstone.

There’s no doubt that this living monument, known as the Gladstone, is a central character in Toronto’s cultural scene. Its walls are canvas and its inhabitants are artists that continue to paint its identity.

Ten Books Being Read in Gladstone

  1. The End of Growth, Jeff Rubin, hard cover, Random House Canada, 2012, $20
  2. The Seven Secrets of Synchronicity: Your Guide to Finding Meaning in Signs Big and Small, Trish Macgregor, Rob Macgregor, Hard Cover, Adams Media Corporation, 2010, $17
  3. Mockingjay: The Final Book of the Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, Scholastic Inc, 2010, eBook, $9.99
  4. Life of Pi, Yann Martell, Knopf Canada, Trade Paperback, 2002, $12
  5. Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie Macdonald, Knopf Canada, Trade Paperback, 1998, $22
  6. The Hogtown Project, Nadine Dolly and Kristie Macor, Hardcover, 2010, $33
  7. Modern Art, David Britt, Thames and Hudson, 2007, Hardcover, $21
  8. Penguin Classics Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, Leo Tolstoy, ed. D T Orwin, transl. P Foote, Penguin UK (PB), Trade Paperback, 2008, $13
  9. Who I Am: A Memoir, Pete Townshend, HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd. Hardcover, $22
  10. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, 2000, Trade Paperback, $15