Category: Literary

Susan Swan

Book City Gets Its Dues: Why We Love Its Indie Book Stores

My partner, the editor Patrick Crean told the world tonight why many of us love Book City and are sad about it closing its 501 Bloor street store. Here’s what Patrick said to a crowd of over 150 who showed up to tell Book City why they care. Patrick has lived in the Annex since 1972, and he was one of Book City’s first customers:

“As a life-long book editor and a long-time resident of the Bloor/Brunswick neighborhood, I have bought hundreds of books and magazines at Book City since it opened in 1976. I was surprised at how sad I felt when the closing of its 501 Bloor street store was announced. It took me weeks trying to get over it. It was just a bookstore wasn’t it? Well, it was so much more: it fed our intellectual curiosity; it sustained us on some psychic level; it made us feel connected to something bigger; something that mattered.

When the store opened in 1976, it created a definite buzz in the hood. There was an kinetic energy to the place: a kind of urban hip atmosphere on two floors. And for 36 years it provided us all with an exciting place to hang out, discover new books, and gossip about the industry. There was a sense of community in that store and it provided a focal point for the neighborhood.

There is no other experience quite like that of patronizing a good independent book store. This is often where we discover new books by chance. And until they discover an algorithm for replicating on line the discoverability aspect of the curated book store, there is no substitute for it.

I would go to Book City to find a particular title and leave clutching at least 3 or 4 books. If you live in the world of ideas, going to the store was always an exciting experience. You never knew what you would find. For me buying books was retail therapy. It was – dare I say – almost an erotic experience going into 501 Bloor. Books are sexy objects and if you are a book nut like me you want to hold them, touch them and possess them. Hooked on books is my motto.

Let us all thank Frans and Gini Donker for their years of inspired and exciting bookselling in the Annex. They have made a huge contribution to our culture over the years and continue to do so with their other stores in the city. Bless you both.

Let’s salute Ian Donker who continues the Donker family tradition of fine bookselling. Good luck Ian.

Let us also thank John Snyder who managed and curated the Annex store with such intelligence and flair. With John, you always knew you would find books of interest without having your brain freeze – as it does when you are confronted with the massive and seemingly unlimited choice at the big box stores. Book buying is an intimate experience and John understood this. He knew his clientele. He hand-sold many a book to me and his kind of bookselling will be missed. Thank you John. We wish you the very best.

The closing of 501 is a great loss to our neighbourhood, but we carry on, we readers and lovers of the book never stop seeking out good books wherever they may be found. It’s comforting to remember that there is actually a line in the Bible – the last verse of Ecclesiastes – that says ‘ of making many books there is no end.’

Help Us Make Protest Go Viral Today Vs Expanding Airport


You have less than three hours to help NoJetsTO make a protest go viral against expanding the Billy Bishop airport. All you need to do is sign up on this link to make happen: This is the link:

Meanwhile, as many of you know, I’ve been working hard to publish information about the dangers of expanding Billy Bishop airport in Toronto. A lot of the crucial information about the proposed expansion hasn’t been making it into the newspapers. So I was glad to see the Toronto Star ran an op-ed column today by Air Canada CEO Calvin Rovinescu.

Rovinescu is against the current expansion plan and he made some points that don’t get aired a lot. Rovinescu pointed out that the Billy Bishop Airport is a public facility that has been handed over to a private company, Porter Airlines. He also said that expanding the airport will cost taxpayers over one hundred million to three million to upgrade airport facilities. He wondered why one private company would be given such preferential treatment. Why, indeed?

Rovinescu didn’t say this in his article but another word for Porter’s dealing with Toronto politicians and the Toronto Port Authority is crony capitalism. That is, a select group of business people make strategic alliances with politicians in order to get public funding for their private companies.

If you want to see more of Rovinescu’s case check out page 16 of today’s Star or the link:

We thought the city agreement protected us


My name is Bob Ramussen and I live near the island airport. Why am I against its proposed expansion? When the large jets start flying, whether louder or quieter, the increased traffic congestion will make the waterfront a dead zone.

It is simply not possible to squeeze the same number of passengers who now fly through Ottawa’s airport through Billy Bishop. The island airport is located smack dab in the middle of an area that the city of Toronto has zoned as a residential, park and cultural community.

Let me say it again: Why am I against the proposed expansion of the island airport? Because it will only make the quality of downtown life worse. Recently, the island airport has expanded to over two million passengers a year, and that makes our quality of life bad enough. But the proposed expansion to well over four million will degrade our once beautiful waterfront even more.

Here’s some background on me: When my wife and I purchased our harbourfront condominium in 1996, we lived in Hong Kong. But we had decided to retire to Canada, and we wanted to live in a waterfront environment close to city amenities. We chose downtown Toronto over Victoria and Vancouver so we could enjoy the cultural excitement of this city and, in particular, Toronto Island, Harbourfront Centre and the Music Garden.

We knew there was a small airport serving mainly small planes. We also knew the city’s Tripartite Agreement protected our investment because the agreement forbid the use of jet planes. But we really never worried about airport expansion because no city would ever consider destroying its greatest asset. Or so we thought.

Our building has a beautiful garden plaza. It was a spot where, for many years, we could lounge, eat, visit with friends and enjoy the greenery and lake view. It has now become a noisy, unpleasant place to be. During the busy late afternoon flight period, eating and talking with friends is no longer the joy we used to experience. In the past, we also kept our windows open to let the lake breezes blow through our home in the summer. Rarely did we use air conditioning. Now the island airport makes it necessary to always keep windows closed when watching television, listening to music or talking.

Many years ago we lived in Mississauga underneath a flight path to Pearson. We looked up, way up, to see the planes fly overhead. Now we look down to see the planes pass by our windows. Hong Kong had an airport like the one being proposed for our waterfront. Hong Kong closed it. Toronto wants to build one.

Toronto’s Department of Health voted against expansion last November. So here’s my last question: Why are city councillors still debating this irresponsible expansion?

What’s With the Sticky Black Stuff on the Window Sills?

smudged window

Photo by Llima Orosa

I’ve made it my job (since the papers aren’t doing it) to find out about the sticky black stuff on the windows of downtown residences along with the impact of jets on our air and water quality. So check out my blog next week for missing information about Toronto’s air and water quality. On Dec 9, 2013, Toronto’s board of health voted against the expansion of the island airport because it is a threat to Torontonians’ health.

In a city map based on the board’s report, NOW magazine demonstrated that serious pollution from the airport goes as high as Queen street and reaches as far as Queen’s Park. More pollution brings more lung and heart disease, the Toronto Board of Health says. So don’t assume you’re safe from the impact of the airport just because you don’t live on the harbour.

In the meantime, here’s my interview with Rick Persich who will move out of his home on Bathurst Quay if the airport expansion is approved. By the way, Rick Persich is still waiting to hear what the city’s health officials have to say about the black sticky substance on his window sills:

I live in Windward Co-op at 34 Little Norway Crescent. Looking out my window, I can almost count the distance on my fingers from my town house to the airport hangars. It feels about three hundred meters. (The quotes are different depending where you’re counting from.) So if the airport expansion is approved I will move after living here twenty-five years. Ideally, I’d like to stay close to the city but I’m an actor and a recently certified teacher and I will go where the work is.

The particulate matter on my window sill used to be a brownish colour but it’s turned blacker. In February, some city inspectors took a sample of the sticky black residue and put it in a petri dish. They haven’t got back to me yet. Inspector Barbara La Chapelle was here in her fur coat. She said while standing on my balcony, “You sure do live close.” Or something like that. She said the city’s health study would not be biased. That was one of my concerns because the Toronto Port Authority paid for the city’s study.

Last Monday, perhaps because of stormy weather, the airport activity was almost nil. I couldn’t put my finger on what was different until I realized how quiet it was. My whole being felt calm and peaceful. It was a profound feeling, and I realized how the ubiquitous din from the airport helps create a kind of inner tension in my personal being. One seems to get used to it and not realize what an assault constant noise is.

When I moved to the Bathurst Quay neighborhood I expected to live a fairly peaceful life, slightly separated from the inner city core and near the fresh air of Lake Ontario. At the time, BBTCA was a small and acceptable regional airport. But that changed when Porter expanded its flights in 2006 and the proposed expansion would pretty much finish off our wonderful neighborhood by the water.

By the way, an increase in cancer has been recorded in my area, especially in Arcadia Co-op which has a high concentration of people with cancers on the 6th and 7th floors of their building. I mention this because a dear friend of ours, who lives in Arcadia, has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. One cannot conclusively say that this cancer was caused by air pollution emanating from jet fuel but a connection could be drawn. The turboprops now in use at the airpot have jet engines with propellers and they run on the same highly toxic fuel as jets.

Read more on this topic at Now Magazine’s: The Island airport: hazardous to Toronto’s health

Our Young People Are at Ground Zero in This Mess


Photography by Abdallahh, and elPadawan (adapted work).

I said I’d talk more about how an expansion of the island airport would change our lives. Not only would it bring in more passengers (a jump from well over two million to a possible 4.8 million). Our waterfront has been marked as parkland for mixed use by Toronto citizens. The proposed expansion would tip the balance even more to planes. Here’s how a sailor, Ron Jenkins sees the impact of the proposed Porter expansion.

1. How would an island airport expansion affect you?

I’m a member of the National Yacht Club, which is adjacent to the airport. The NYC and Alexandra Yacht Club both contend with significant aircraft noise and exhaust fumes. Our balconies are sometimes unusable and we often move our outdoor activities indoors or to the north of the building to get away from the noise. The NYC has been on the waterfront since 1894, and I think this inappropriate and unnecessary airport expansion would destroy a Toronto waterfront legacy for my children and others.

2. What were your expectations when you started living near the airport?

I’ve never lived near the airport but have sailed from the National Yacht Club all my life.

2. How has the landscape changed?

I started sailing at the National Yacht Club on my grandfather’s 25 foot wooden sailboat boat when I was three months old — in the late 1950s. The area has vastly changed. The area between Stadium Road and Bathurst was an empty dirt field. Now it’s populated with many residences. It’s also the staging point for over two million passengers a year at the airport. Commercial use of the airport has increased one thousand fold.

3. Can you tell me a personal story that demonstrates the impact of the airport?

Back in the 1960s, my grandfather had no motor on his boat, and when there was no wind and we were hurrying to get to races that started off Hanlan’s beach, we’d paddle across the Western Gap. Then, in the style of Volga boatmen, we were able to pull the boat along the seawall and across the end of the airport runway.

In the last ten years the expanse of lake at the end of the runway has changed dramatically. Marks now encircle the so-called “Marine Exclusion Zone” (MEZ) — the area all boats must stay out of to keep a safe separation between boats and aircraft. This makes sense, and yet we boaters have seen the area marked out by the MEZ grow season over season. It’s pretty intimidating to have a Q400 pass overhead when you’re in a sailboat.

My involvement with the summer sailing school also makes me concerned about the health of the young sailors coming from around Toronto to use our water and breathe our air. The recent Board of Health report shows there are health hazards because of the scale of airport operations. Our young people are at ground zero in this mess.

No Brain IS an Island Airport Expansion


Image by James Cridland with text design by Mariel Marshall

Today the Toronto Star published an opinion piece by the man who holds the reins of power over the island airport. His name is Geoffrey A. Wilson and he is the president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority which is asking Toronto’s city council to expand Billy Bishop airport. He claims that his aim is to “do no harm” and he certainly tries hard to strike a reasoned tone in an article that is mostly unreasonable guff.

He says we need to focus on the facts regarding the airport–a point I agree with him on. But he denies that the proposed Porter expansion will grow Billy Bishop to the size of the Ottawa airport. Of course, Billy Bishop won’t be the physical size of Ottawa. There isn’t room to physically grow a regional airport on a tiny island in our harbour–a fact that our citizen groups have been pointing out for at least twelve years.

But the proposed expansion (if it is approved by Toronto’s city council next month) means that Billy Bishop will have the capacity to have MORE passengers than the Ottawa airport per year. The proposed expansion means that 4.6 to 4.8 million passengers can pass through Billy Bishop each year. The Ottawa International airport currently has 4.6 passengers each year.

Oops! Mr. Wilson conveniently forgot to mention this very basic fact. Nor does he mention that growing Billy Bishop will bring more traffic and jet fuel emissions to an already challenged environment. I am sick and tired of our newspapers running mostly pro-expansion stories about the island airport so I am committing this blog to reporting the facts about what an expanded island airport means for the rest of us.

By the way, I live in the Annex but that doesn’t mean it’s in my interests to ignore a debate that is going to shape our city’s future and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

There are more F-A-C-T-S on this link.

Mr. Wilson’s opinion piece is at

More tomorrow.



We all cherish the Toronto waterfront as a place to live, work and play. But our waterfront as we know it could soon be scarred by an expanded Toronto Island airport with jet aircraft. An expansion that  will bring noise, pollution and more gridlock – paid by our tax dollars.

Toronto’s Board of Health, Waterfront Toronto and high-profile Torontonians and organizations have spoken out against the jet plans, but Porter is pushing City Council to give the green light even before all studies have been done.

It all comes down to how City Council votes in April 2014. By speaking out today you can do your part to save Toronto’s waterfront. Fill out the form and your city councillor will receive an email urging him/her to stop the Pearson-by-the-Lake. Sign the petition here:

No Brain is an Island Airport (expansion)


Image by BriYYZ

In a short story, I once wrote that a human being grows slower than any creature in the universe … slower than dogs or roses… And our slow evolution is obvious when I see what’s going on with the new plan to expand the island airport. Do we really need to wait until the waterfront is no longer liveable, when people and businesses move out of downtown Toronto because the air is poisoned, and the noise unbearable? In the interest of hurrying our slow, sloth-like tendency to respond too late to choices that are bad for us, I’m starting a new series of interviews with people who live under the planes. They can tell us what it really feels, hears and smells like right now in downtown Toronto. Our daily newspapers aren’t giving us this information; Porter Airlines spends too much money on ads for the newspapers to rock the boat so I’m going to provide some of the missing information on my blog. The following is an interview with Barbara, who lives on Bathurst Quay.

When I moved to Bathurst Quay 28 years ago, the island airport was a sleepy little airport. We thought it would remain little and sleepy because we were told we were protected by the Tripartite Agreement.

Since 2006, everything has changed here. Huge fuel trucks pass daily in front of schoolchildren and other pedestrians. Taxis speed through the intersection to the airport, almost knocking us over. Airport limousines and private cars idle in the no parking area in front of our wheelchair ramp. They also line up idling in the bicycle lane on Queens Quay next to the park. The drivers get mad and refuse to move when we point out that it is a bicycle lane and that idling is illegal. I wake up between 6:30 and 6:45 every morning when the engine run-ups and turboprop takeoffs and landings start. We can no longer eat dinner on our balcony because the noise is unpleasant and fairly constant now, and we often can’t hear others speaking.

I recently had a landmark birthday. I wanted to plan a big party and invite friends from far and wide to celebrate with me. Then I realized–I can’t have a big party. The airport has filled all the parking lots in our area, and there is nowhere for my friends to park.

(Out-of-town Visitors to Harbourfront, who complain of scarce parking, will find it even scarcer this summer, now that Porter Airlines has made a deal for airport parking with the parking garage across the street from Harbourfront Centre.)

I developed a chronic lung condition (a form of COPD) in 2009. I can’t afford to move to a part of Toronto with better air. I understand that even the current level of air pollution, and surely airport expansion will shorten my life.

Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel (Day Fourteen)


Photo by Tambako

I have a monkey on my back. The first time I noticed it I was in Grade 2. I remember my six-year-old self going round and round my house in a snow suit while a little voice inside said–you need to work harder. You shouldn’t just be swaggering about in the snow like this. Don’t play. Be serious. Get to work.

I still hear the chiding voice. When I was a reporter, it was even louder. The desk editor Don Grant used to shout at me–don’t think, Susan! Write! I did what he said: I wrote. In those days, there were five editions of a daily newspaper and when I was covering a fast-breaking story I’d have to update the story four times a day. Veteran reporters used to call in their stories, composing it into the phone while they glanced at their notes, and somebody in the office typed up what they said. The ability of these veterans amazed me; then I learned to do it too.

But writing a novel isn’t like phoning in a newspaper story. And the voice in my head isn’t helpful. Oh, it gets me to sit down at my desk every day. But once I’m in my chair, not only do I need to think, I need to play. In fact, a lot of novel writing is about taking your time instead of rushing; it’s about playing with ideas and letting yourself day dream.

So I have a new plan as I start the last section of my book. I am going to play all the way through to the end. I am not going to spend hours and hours revising as I go along, which is what I’ve been doing until now. I’m going to dictate my final chapters, (yes, I know, that’s a link to phoning in the story); get my chapters typed up, and then I’ll spend the rest of the day swimming and wool gathering and generally goofing off.

Until the monkey on my back ruins everything by shrieking, “You really should get back to work!”

Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel (Day Thirteen)

Image by Jonathan Moreau

In my last blog, I admitted that I’m moving out of the middle of the novel. What does that mean, really? It means that I’m starting the drive to the finish line and there are a number of plotting details I need to be clear about before I go there. So I’ll be taking time away from the blog to think through different scenarios and see which ones are going to work best for my story. And then I’ll report back here on how it’s going.

Meanwhile, I’ll be reminding myself of Alberto Manguel’s axiom: what the story needs is the first law of fiction. Not which of my favourite passages I want to keep. And not the ending that I had my heart set on but the passages and ending that move my story forward. So I may throw away some of the triggering ideas that started me writing my story–if the story asks for that sacrifice.

But most of all, I’ll be dealing with plot, or the lack of it. The late Hugh Kenner (who borrowed the axiom from another writer) once explained plot to me this way: the king dies, the queen dies–that is not a plot. But the king dies and the queen dies of grief is a plot because there is a causal connection between the first event and the second.

Manguel and Kenner are both critics and neither of them would be foolish enough to utter a rule that’s set in stone. Most axioms about writing are only guidelines because fiction writing is an evolving tradition. Many younger writers are moving away from plot and giving the reader instead the experience of being closer to a self, as the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard put it. And the New Yorker critic James Wood claims plot works like a burdensome and predictable caravan in most contemporary novels. I know what he means. The last thing I want to do is freight my story with a creaking plot line.

So I’m really talking about my story’s trajectory. How will it evolve? There’s something exciting about the last part of the novel writing process. The uneasy, doldrumish feeling of being in the middle of the novel is shifting into a faster, more thrilling sensation. The joy of finishing is like plunging backwards over a fizzing waterfall. Or maybe it’s more like the rush of spring light that starts to brighten our lives. The momentum brings with it the gathering up of confidence as characters and events coalesce.

There will be time enough when I’m revising to start eating anxiety pancakes again.

Anxiety Pancakes: Life in the Middle of a Novel (Day Twelve)


I said I was going to write about Barry Michels and the Shadow, as Jung calls the part of ourselves we hide from the world. Michels is a neo-Jungian therapist who advises Hollywood screen writers to get in touch with their Shadow because it helps them be more creative. When the Shadow is involved, your writing has creative flow, according to Michels. He’s more practical than theoretical, and he offers a number of psychological methods he calls “the tools” that are designed to help anyone, not just writers, get in touch with their creativity.

I’ve tried our a few of Michels methods, like imagining my Shadow is sitting in the room with me when I’m talking to a publisher about a book. His advice helped me to stay focused and confident. Michels has another technique to calm performance fears. It’s called “Dust,” and you literally imagine everyone in your audience covered in two inches of dust. Still another of his techniques, “Cosmic Rage,” consists of silently shouting “Fuck you, fuck you!” to anyone who intimidates you.

A lot of what Michels is saying is really about training your unconscious to be on your side. For instance, before I go to bed, I sometimes ask my unconscious to solve a problem I’m having in my narrative. I know it sounds wonky but the answer often arrives with the daylight.

Anyway, this morning, I thought of Michels when I woke up. I had been dreaming of my character, Dale Paul, who runs a dead pool on aging or frail celebrities. In the dream, I felt submerged in his life and his problems and there was a doleful sense of the world ending. Just before I wrote this blog I realized the dream was telling me Dale Paul’s story is almost finished. That’s right. I’m no longer in the middle of a novel. I am getting closer to the end.