Every April, Toronto Public Library hosts the Keep Toronto Reading Festival. At the centre of the month long celebration of literacy is the One Book program, in which a single work of fiction or collection of poetry is chosen as a focal point for myriad activities and discussions — a city-wide book club of sorts, with a lot more ways to participate.
Part of the fun of One Book is that the chosen volume always has a local flavour, and the discussion is instantly personalized. Two years ago, TPL’s choice was Loyalty Management, a poetry collection by Glen Downie that was partly set in the Junction. A short Spacing series run in conjunction was full of musings on Toronto slaughterhouses, rooming houses, and sculptures brought about by our readings. Last year’s One Book was Austin Clarke’s More, centred in Moss Park, but with a heroine who shopped in Kensington, drank at the El Mocambo, and worked at Trinity College. This time, inspired by narrator Idora, Spacing delved into the history of Allan Gardens, Toronto racetracks, and codes of silence on the TTC.
This year’s One Book is Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates. While Toronto plays a role, Bates’s debut novel is mostly set in Irvine, Ontario, in the early 1960s. It is the story of schoolgirl Su-Jen and her family, newly arrived from Hong Kong, who own the only Chinese restaurant in a small town known only for its tannery. This is the story of a life caught in two worlds: literally, between communist China and the promise of Canada, but more pressingly, of the secrets and tensions of two complicated marriages, and a very clouded family history.
Throughout April, Spacing will look at how the spatial aspects of the novel reflect, emphasize, or play into Bates’s larger narrative and themes. Or at least, that’s our starting point; One Book has the habit of leading us in directions we have a hard time imagining at the start line.
We hope you’ll pick up the book and join the discussion, both here and at the many amazing TPL events associated with Keep Toronto Reading. Planned happenings include dim sum in Chinatown, a lecture on duelling identities by U of T’s Dr. Julie Mehta, a demonstration of traditional Chinese opera, and of course, plenty of readings and discussion groups across the city. A complete list of One Book events is available here.