Book cover image courtesy of Mansfield Press.
Born from a course she teaches in York University’s Geography department, Amy Lavender Harris’s Imagining Toronto is a tome that digs into Toronto’s literary archeology, transcribing what Harris sees as an ongoing dialogue between the city we write and the city we live. Sprawling and meticulously researched, Imagining Toronto takes a variety of different tacks, coming at the expanse of research both place-by-place and theme-by-theme. The book is often lively, and always attentive.
But a read of Imagining Toronto had us wondering: who is this book meant for? Who will it reach, and who ought it to? While its academic roots are obvious, it seems intent to cast its readership net beyond the scope of the ivory tower and its environs of the literary community.
We’re not sure how far that extension will go. Most likely, this book will prove itself a fantastic find for undergraduates researching term papers for CanLit courses that deal with the idea of “place” (that’s a joke, guys: anyone who’s taken a romp through an English undergrad will know that every CanLit course is about place).
Harris is at her writerly best when telling us how Toronto is and was, spinning out stories about the city’s geography and history and bolstering these with a few choice literary examples. Less exciting is when these stories get bogged down by their literary referents, covering terrain in a manner more thorough than novel. Harris is clearly cut from the same cloth as Shawn Micallef et al.: these are Toronto-lovers on a mission to spread the gospel, and we have heard their prayer. But we fear that some of the book’s more delightful moments—the parts that made us feel infected by Harris’s knowledge of and enthusiasm for the city—may be lost in sometimes-exhausting free-association pinballing from citation to citation.
On the whole, however, Imagining Toronto is a well-done and much-needed piece of work. And it’s more than just a book: it’s a whole, online project, including an ever-expanding bibliography of literary works that deal with Toronto. We did say thorough, right?