Supporting Striking Library Workers

On Sunday, March 25, the Writers’ Union of Canada joined the ongoing demonstration by striking library workers outside the Metro Reference Library. As an honorary member of the union, I was glad to be able to lend my support to this event, which was organized by Susan Swan and headed by TWUC President Greg Hollingshead.

After Greg and Susan, a number of other authors spoke briefly but vigorously in favour of libraries and their workers.  These speakers included Ken McGoogan, (the head of the Public Lending Right committee, which ensures that authors are recompensed for the use of their books in libraries), Erika Ritter, and me.

Photo: TPLWU Local 4948

I spoke (entirely unofficially) on behalf of publishers, none of whom were present (ahem), noting that publishers knew and appreciated the role of librarians. Then I spoke as an author, and as a member of the union who was glad to participate  in the event. I explained that I was a writer who had benefited from the libraries, pointing to the adjoining Reference Library and announcing that I had researched my own book “right there.”

Then I commented on the famous proudly ignorant statement by Doug Ford that he would not recognize the (library-supporting) Margaret Atwood if she passed him “in the street.” I was able to tell the crowd that in June I was in Kirkwall, a small town in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. There an excited Scot stopped me in the street, saying, “My wife’s just seen Margaret Atwood!” Since Margaret and I were both staff members of the visiting Adventure Canada cruise I was able to confirm the sighting, and he went off, thrilled. Clearly, people around the world do recognize Toronto’s famous author in the street. Doug Ford – who embarrasses Dougs everywhere – should himself be embarrassed.

I did not go on to comment that Rob and Doug Ford do not strike me (and this may be an unfair assumption) as people whose worldview has been shaped by much time spent in libraries. Nor did I go on to suggest that the library workers are in the front lines of a battle that concerns us all; battle between Tea Party-inspired politicians who believe that all taxes are bad, and must always be cut, and never, ever raised. This has led to an extraordinary event in Silicon Valley (as I learned on a brief recent trip to California) where there is extreme, billion-dollar private affluence alongside public squalor, with closed libraries, crowded schools and bad roads. The situation is so bad that major players at the head of some  Silicon Valley companies are organizing to raise private funds in support of public services. One company spokesman noted that people don’t like living in communities with these public flaws, hence the new fundraising movement.

It all reminds me of the American judge (was it Oliver Wendell Holmes?) who said flatly, “I enjoy paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.” I’m sorry now that I didn’t lead the crowd in a chant: “What Do We Want? . . . Civilization! When Do We Want It? Now!”

But, clad in my bright yellow, orange and red Buchanan tartan shirt, I learned a useful tip about making outdoor speeches against the roar of passing traffic. Speak loudly, and wear a loud shirt.

— Douglas Gibson

Shows for Seniors

With all the Scottish celebrations I gave only one show in January. This was at Christie Gardens, the fine Seniors’ Home in Toronto graced by my 90-year-old mother-in-law, Louise Brenneman. To my delight 70 residents showed up after dinner to see my show, and all seemed to go well. Jane and I even sold 18 copies of the book.

February, however, is a busy month for the show, and March is taking me as far afield as Edmonton. And as for the summer . . .

— Douglas Gibson

Doug Gibson at the Green Door Cabaret

After trekking back and forth across the country performing at lit festivals and private gatherings, now, in a rare one-afternoon stand, Doug Gibson will be performing his show in public in Toronto. On Sunday, February 26, at 3 p.m,, he will give two 45-minute sets at The Green Door Cabaret Winter Series, at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Street (south of Dundas), Toronto.

The Lower Ossington Theatre is a licensed facility, with seating for 100. The ticket prices for this convivial two-hour show are $25.00 for general admission, and $20.00 for students.

Booking in advance is strongly recommended. Tickets (and information) are available by phone  (416-915-6747), or through, or at the door.

Doug will be available after the performance for book signing and conversation.


Another Bookstore Lesson

I dropped in on Book City’s Danforth Avenue store, fresh from buying a Big Carrot tofurkey for the vegetarian troublemakers around our Christmas table.

The elder statesman of the Toronto chain, the eminent Frans Donker, happened to be in the store, and greeted me warmly. He urged me to sign the two copies of my book, then went looking for a third copy out on the shelves. He returned, shaking his head over that copy. The flap had been carefully folded over to mark a place two-thirds of the way through the book. Some anonymous browser had apparently been working his or her way through the book, and was nearing the end — without any messy expenditure of dollars.

I’m torn between pleasure that this discriminating reader would sacrifice a part of lunch-hour each day to drink in my stories — and outrage that the book is being devoured for free. I’d love to meet the culprit. We could have an interesting conversation.

As for the life of a bookseller, who could have predicted this?

— Douglas Gibson

On IFOA and “The Floating World” of Authors

For many writers, the Toronto IFOA has such a pedigree that it marks a high point in their promotional lives. If, however, you’re on the tour, it’s just another meeting of the “Floating World” of authors. So the hospitality suite is a place of festival reunions (“Hey, I missed you after Banff. How was Vancouver?”), and I was glad to catch up with many friends from earlier festivals, and with old friends like Elizabeth Hay, who once graced the delightful Tepoztlan Canadian festival in Mexico, and whom I’m proud to have published.

I ran into David Adams Richards, and learned that one chapter in my book is out of date. Talking about Jack Hodgins, I lament the fact that perhaps I gave him bad advice by urging him to stay far away from Toronto. To make my point I note how well my friend David’s career has developed since he abandoned New Brunswick and moved to Toronto. David gently reminded me that after many years in Toronto, he moved back east, to Fredericton, two years ago.

Signing after their IFOA event, Sylvia Tyson and Douglas Gibson.

As for the show, I had the surprising honour of having Sylvia Tyson precede me (“I once had Sylvia Tyson open for me” is a good boast for posterity. ) Her reading from her novel was punctuated by occasional songs. When I followed her, in the course of my one-hour show, I sang one line, which gives me room for a tiny singing boast. I’m still working on it.

— Douglas Gibson