What'cha Reading?

November 12, 2016 | Beau

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I work in the Arts Department of the Toronto Reference Library (TRL), where most of the books are reference only (hence the name) and can't be signed out. So by looking at the book trucks where material is waiting to be re-shelved, you can get an idea of what people have come in to look at recently and also the amazingly diverse array of subjects available for study up here on the fifth floor of the TRL.


Right here on one truck, we've got books about a couple of rock stars (John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, who were drinking buddies during Lennon's temporary mid-'70s separation from Yoko Ono that he later called his "lost weekend"); artists who occupied abandoned buildings in Berlin after the fall of the Iron Curtain and turned them into studios; the history of music in the Baroque and Renaissance periods; and the role movie stars have played in the shaping of US politics over the years. Not a bad start!


This truck has mostly art and theatre books, but the one that caught my eye was The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, by George Ryga, a play which premiered in Vancouver in 1967. It tells the story of a young aboriginal woman who travels to the city in the hopes of finding freedom from the limitations of reserve life, only to be imprisoned and die there. A seminal (and unfortunately still relevant and timely) play in the history of modern Canadian theatre, it has been re-staged several times throughout Canada and the United States, adapted by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and released as an original cast recording vinyl LP I used to own, which is how I originally learned about it.


Arts is just one of the departments at TRL, and here we have a bunch of books that have somehow migrated up from Business, Science and Technology (BST) on the 3rd floor and Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) on the 2nd. Based on the evidence here, I'm going to guess there might have been an engineer (with a side interest in dance) researching how to brand the hair salon they are planning on opening in China.


This truck whisks us over from China to eastern and central Europe. A couple of years ago, my wife and I traveled to Berlin and Vienna, both of which are justly famous for their art and architecture. Vienna's mumok (MUseum MOderner Kunst, or Museum of Modern Art in English) and Berlin's me Collectors Room in particular are two of the best art galleries I've ever been fortunate enough to visit.  And although the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the city is still to this day profoundly marked by its former division between East and West (visiting the remains of the Wall is just a fraction of how much you can learn about history, art and architecture just by walking through either city).



While we're on the subject of Vienna, one of Austria's most famous artists is Gustav Klimt, perhaps best-known for his painting "The Kiss." When we were there we saw his Beethoven Frieze at the Vienna Secession Building, which is affectionately referred to by locals as "the golden cabbage." But as renowned as he is, Klimt is just one of many artists featured on this truck, which also includes books about American photojournalist Walker Evans, English landscape architect (and awesome name owner) Capability BrownLewis Hine, a sociologist and photographer whose work was instrumental in the reformation of child labour laws in the United States, as well as histories of wedding dress designs and traditions and English family portraiture in the 18th century (back when if you wanted a family portrait, you all had to sit still long enough for someone to paint you, not just take a picture at the mall's photo studio).



And last but not least we have this mishmash of books about an international guerrilla knitting art movement, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, fashion in London during England's "swinging sixties," English collections of Greek and Roman artifacts and, to take things back to where they all began, art in the ancient world.

This is just a sampling from one walk around the floor on a random Saturday morning! So whether you'd like to learn more about your favourite art form, or develop a new interest you didn't even know you had, it's a pretty safe bet that we have something to lose yourself in here at TRL Arts!