The Toronto Review of Books is the latest addition to our city's literary scene, and that scene includes soba noodles.
Book reviews in Canada are becoming an increasingly rare art form. And yet Jessica Duffin Wolfe is leaping on board, albeit in a way that embraces new media.
The Toronto Review of Books will launch on September 20 as a quarterly, online-only journal. Don’t be misled by its name, though–founder Duffin Wolfe is hot to trot to review all kinds of culture.
Though the journal’s moniker bears close resemblance to those of the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, Duffin Wolfe insists that while these journals exist to make academic discussion accessible to the public, the Toronto Review of Books will be more on the ground and a vessel for the passions of its contributors, which may or may not involve books.
“In all the debates about the future of books, it can get quite shrill, and people want to preserve the status quo, and lament everything,” said Duffin Wolfe. “There are ways we can take the legacy of book culture and apply it to new media. I think we do a service to books by finding new ways to talk about them.”
In the first issue, readers can expect an article on Toronto’s Twitter scene by stroller Shawn Micallef, poetry by Damian Rogers, a review of three political documentary films by activist-filmmaker Brett Story, a review of reviewing by Phillipa Chong, and a critique of a soba noodle restaurant.
Book reviews will feature more prominently in future issues, but expect them as audio recordings as well as in writing. Duffin Wolfe’s rationale is simply that she wants to embrace all kinds of reading, as a defence of the act itself:
“The interests of readers keep getting disregarded…with funding cuts to libraries, etc.,” said Duffin Wolfe. “I want the Toronto Review of Books to be a voice to combat that threat to reading. I think that a reader isn’t necessarily someone reading a book or website; you can be a reader by listening to a podcast. We want this reviewing of culture to be as accessible as possible.”
This is despite Duffin Wolfe’s grounding in academia–she’s currently a doctoral candidate in English, Book History & Print Culture at the University of Toronto. The Toronto Review of Books received a startup grant from U of T, though Duffin Wolfe says that the university has no editorial involvement.
As for the CanCon quotient, Duffin Wolfe feels strongly that the Literary Review of Canada has that aspect more than covered. Still, she added, “It’s not our objective to valorize Canadian books.”
Duffin Wolfe is interested in rescuing Canada, and Toronto in particular, from the perception that it is “a boring provincial place.” She served as the review editor at Spacing, and though she says the Toronto Review of Books will not embrace urbanism to the same degree, “one of the things that I admire about Spacing…is that they mobilize a very engaged community and it’s celebratory of Toronto, and that’s one of the objectives of the Toronto Review of Books.”
The new online journal launches at Massey College on September 20.
CLARIFICATION: September 21, 2011, 1:05 PM This article originally indicated that the journal would present book reviews in the form of audio recordings, but it may not have been clear to readers that the reviews will also appear in written form. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.