Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Recently, author Yann Martel was a guest at the Appel Salon. He discussed, among other things, his latest book, The High Mountains Of Portugal. His name may ring a bell if you’re interested in literature and/or movies; he is the author of Life Of Pi, which was adapted into a wonderful film directed by Ang Lee. For the record, I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen the movie.

One of the topics which Yann discussed was fiction’s ability to explore ideas and outcomes which non-fiction cannot explore to the same degree. To clarify his point, he used a David Grossman book as an example: See Under: Love. This book is set during the Holocaust; one of the characters is immortal and, therefore, cannot be killed. Since he is Jewish, he is put into a gas chamber where everyone around him dies…except him. Needless to say, this fact makes for very interesting possibilities. I explained it as best as I could here, but you really should hear it in Yann’s own words. (To be fair, there are stories of people who have survived gas chambers, including this one.)

This may sound pretentious, but hearing this example of the power of fiction reminded me of what I strive to achieve in my mashups. I can’t hope to evoke visceral reactions to significant historical events like Mr. Grossman; that’s definitely beyond my sphere of influence. However, since the majority of musical artists are content to work within narrow contexts, it’s easy for me to put them in unfamiliar environments. For example, even though Taylor Swift has transitioned from country to pop music, she has no immediate plans to make chamber music or work with The Piano Guys. Nonetheless, I realized those goals for her in “Adele Amadeus Swift.” If she ever makes a classical album, I’ll be happy to take the credit for it.

As it is in literature, so it is in music.


Appel Of My Eye

I’ve been attending Appel Salon events at the Toronto Reference Library for many years. I don’t remember what my initial motivation was, but the free price tag likely factored into it. In the early days, there were no tickets given; on the day of any given event, you simply lined up before the doors opened.

When a ticketing system finally was implemented a few years ago, I stopped attending Salon events. Considering my faithful attendance in recent years, I cannot believe that I did that. It might have been because I wanted to be sure that I had no commitments before getting a ticket, but I’m not entirely sure of my rationale. Whatever it was, it seems so insignificant now. Fortunately, this self-imposed moratorium wasn’t permanent.

In late 2013, I found out that a world-famous Canadian astronaut would be making an appearance at the Appel. Considering his then-recent stint on the International Space Station, I knew it would be a heck of a big deal (that’s an understatement).

The astronaut’s name? You may have heard it before: Chris Hadfield.

On the day that tickets went on sale for his event, there were technical issues which almost caused me to end up empty-handed, but my second attempt was successful. The stage was set for my long-awaited return to the Appel Salon.

Since that event, I haven’t looked back.

Under the leadership of Tina Srebotnjak and Yvonne Hunter, the Appel Salon has thrived in Toronto’s literary scene. Many an author has graced its stage, including Margaret Trudeau, Caitlin Moran, Lena Dunham, and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In my opinion, 2015 was a banner year for the Appel; the hits kept coming night after night. It’s one thing to be able to book people like Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Mohamed Fahmy, and Judy Blume in the same venue. It’s another thing when you can book all of them in the same year. It shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog to find out that Judy Blume’s appearance is my all-time favourite Salon event; until that evening, Chris Hadfield had that honour.

On January 11th, the Appel Salon will open its doors for its first event of 2016: an appearance by chef Gabrielle Hamilton. This event is sold out, but given the Salon’s cachet, this shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Here’s another fact which shouldn’t be surprising: I’ll be there.

Once In A Blume Moon

Some parts of my childhood are still alive – and vibrantly so.

I remember my grade four teacher reading Judy Blume‘s Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing to my class. Apart from frequent laughter, I don’t remember my specific reactions to it. I did, however, order the book from the Scholastic Book Club, eagerly anticipating its arrival. It’s one of the first books I’ve ever loved.

I still have that book. Heck, I’ve read it twice in my adult years, including once in the last week.


Needless to say, when I found out that Judy Blume would be making a stop in Toronto in support of her latest book, In The Unlikely Event, I was excited and pleasantly surprised. Thanks to the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon, I’ve had the privilege of seeing people like Kazuo Ishiguro, David Suzuki and Chris Hadfield for free. Mr. Hadfield’s appearance has been my favourite Appel Salon event for a few years. People like Bruce Cockburn have come close to topping it, but still, it would take a lot for someone to actually clear that bar.

…Until last Monday evening.

The atmosphere was charged long before the event started. I arrived at about 2:40 p.m. thinking that I’d be the one to start the lineup. That would have been true if there weren’t about five other people already in line before I even set foot in the library. Still, at least half of the fun with any given Appel event involves waiting for the doors to open, so I had no complaints about doing that for three hours and twenty minutes.

Before we were let into the Salon an hour before the starting time, the line stretched to the elevators and coiled into the stacks. If you can’t visualize it due to having never visited the Reference Library, I’ll describe it this way: the lineup was long.

As for the actual event, it was far from being a disappointment. I can think of at least a few which didn’t live up to my expectations.

Left to right: Rachel Giese and Judy Blume

I’m struggling to remember specifics; that’s what I get for waiting a few days to write this blog entry. Besides, people like Michelle Lynne and Lindsay Reeder have got me beat on that already; that’s one tag team I don’t feel like going up against, thank you very much.

Here’s what I do remember:

  • Feeling absolute joy as Rachel Giese interviewed Judy Blume. This wasn’t an event where I struggled to stay awake; I was paying attention and keenly alert to what was being said. To echo a quote from Ms. Giese, it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!
  • The Q&A session, where one woman courageously defied her stuttering to thank Judy for her influence. That was easily one of the most emotional moments I’ve witnessed at any book event.
  • The faux time travelling. This event happened on a Monday, but for some reason, I kept thinking that it was Wednesday.
  • Being on cloud nine long after the event was over.

I’ve lost count of the number of Appel Salon events I’ve attended, but as of Monday, I’ve got a new all-time favourite. It was definitely a night to remember.