The word on the street is that people really love books. A lot.
It was so wonderful to see this, and the joy that reading brings to people, at this year’s Word on the Street. The comforting sound of ruffled pages, excited chatter, scolding parents, and good old-fashioned book-bartering brought a smile to many faces. Kids and adults alike sprawled on the grass in Queen’s Park and U of T, drinking in the sunlight, gleefully peeling corn-on-the-cobs and balancing ketchup-laden hot-dogs with bags of books. Kids and tweens raced from booth-to-booth, flipping through picture books, paperbacks, and classics, begging their parents to buy them — “Pleeeeeeeaaase, mom!” Teens strolled nonchalantly, maintaining an air of uber-coolness, but unable to mask their thrill after picking up the latest in the Pretty Little Liars or Nine Lives of Chloe King series for a sweet 30% off. Spontaneous audiences clapped and cheered at the amazing street magician, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the right moments. Word on the Street was fun and enjoyable for all.
HarperCollins definitely stole the show at the Queen’s Park/University Ave. junction, offering backlist titles at $2 – $3, as well as a seriously energetic team that drew in the crowds. It was dramatic. I actually stood outside the tent to watch for a few seconds (I was volunteering on the Frontlist side). Like bees to honey, people stood on their tiptoes to see what was there, shouting their orders to loved ones closer to the table. Hands and arms flailed madly around the red-and-white striped circus tent, stealthily snaking through the throng of bodies, trying to reach the books. It was mayhem.
Wonderful, absolute mayhem.
Simon & Schuster, The Labyrinth, BMV, Between the Lines, and Cormorant also topped my list on great booths to peruse — great deals, interesting titles, and friendly people! There were Canadian magazines and newspapers, including the Toronto Star, which had beautiful photos of vintage Toronto and The Walrus, where you could get a year’s subscription for only $20 — and a free bag!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit any of the stages, but I bought 10 books and spent about $30. How is that even possible? AND I got some freebies. Which, as we know, is the best part of any street festival. A few of the titles I picked up included Palo Alto by James Franco, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar, Strangers in Paris (an anthology by Tightrope Books), a collection of Thomas Hardy poems, Dubliners by James Joyce, and a collection of Spanish poetry during the Renaissance — I have varied tastes, as you can tell. I can’t wait to start reading!
The best thing I saw at Word on the Street? It was 5pm and I was sitting on a patch of grass outside Victoria College near Avenue & Bloor, trying to organize the disaster that was my bundle of bags, when I noticed him. A homeless man walked towards Bloor, his face turned up to the sun, occasionally drumming his hand against the yellow metal fence barricading the street. He held a small plastic bag. And inside, I could make out the rectangular shape of a single paperback. Just one. It likely cost everything he gathered in his hat that day — even if it was only a couple of dollars. He seemed to be in his own world, maybe a little crazy, but he was, undeniably, content.
He had something to read later.