TPL's Innovation Council takes on the 2020 Reading Challenge

August 7, 2020 | Wendy B.

Comments (3)

Reading banner

We're asking readers across the city to take part in TPL's Reading Challenge 2020. In celebration of summer reading, the TPL Innovation Council is sharing their recommended reads for each of the main Reading Challenge categories.


What is the Innovation Council?

TPL’s Innovation Council is an advisory group of leaders from the academic, creative, and technology communities. Council members provide the library with feedback, ideas, and collaboration to help us develop new services. They also help connect the library to the technology and innovation spheres in Toronto and beyond.


What are they up to this summer?

This June, the Council launched the Innovation Council Presents program series. The pilot season was called Community Rising, and featured four online programs that showcased local heroes who made a positive impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can watch replays of Community Rising on the Crowdcast platform:

A second season is now in the planning stages.


What are they reading?

Please enjoy these Reading Challenge picks from council members Jeremy Bailey, Zahra Ebrahim, Emily Porta, Pamela Robinson and Bianca Wylie. Happy reading this summer!


Jeremy's Picks

Jeremy Bailey

Jeremy Bailey is an artist and Creative Director at Freshbooks. In his spare time, he performs as a self-proclaimed "famous new media artist," solving big problems poorly (and hilariously) with technology and creativity in cities all over the world.

Here are Jeremy's picks:

A Book You Consider a Classic

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

I've worked as a software designer of some kind or another for most of my life. There are very few books on software design I consider enduring classics. Because of the nature of technology, most must-reads eventually become obsolete before their time.

However, The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman is a definitive classic. How does it achieve this feat? It includes zero mentions of software. Instead, it describes in simple terms how the brain works when using any "thing", be it a light switch, a door handle or a teapot. These lessons are so powerful for designing software, precisely because they are independent of the ever-changing technical constraints of the most rapid and evolving field of design.

A Book That You Would Like to Live In

A Pattern Language

A Pattern Language: Towns, Building, Construction by Christopher Alexander

Design patterns are all around us. They're what make the world consistent and predictable. They make the code that runs our software, the layouts that make our favourite books and websites attractive, and the plans that make the cities and towns we live in pleasant.

The origin of this fundamental design concept traces back to a book that, on the surface, is about urban planning. But it's actually a manifesto for a world where ordinary people, not only professionals, have a way to work with their neighbours to improve the world we live in together.

If you can get past some dated and often quaint language, this book can teach you everything there is to know about design.


Zahra's Picks

Zahra Ebrahim

Zahra Ebrahim is a city builder and designer interested in shifting power from some to many, using design to build equity, and engaging citizens in the design of services, policies and infrastructure.

Here are Zahra's picks:

A Book by an Indigenous Author

This Accident of Being Lost

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

This Accident of Being Lost is a collection of short stories and songs by Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. I’ve heard so much about this book. I’m super excited to read her lyrical and playful way of calibrating our focus towards a new world that exists without the colonial structures that are so embedded in Canadian life.

Those that have read it have shared that the stories have a dark humour, and are vividly painted and visionary. For the past few years, I’ve made a commitment to read books almost exclusively by BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ authors, and this book has been one that I have been eager to tick off the list!

A Book that Made You Laugh

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

This is a collection of essays in Issa Rae’s signature style: honest, hilarious, and awkward (of course).

For the past few years, I’ve been paying close attention to her work, as she thoughtfully builds a creative enterprise that prioritizes Black talent and tells stories that have been left out of mainstream narratives in culture.

What I love most about her film and television work is her attention to detail, which comes through in her writing. She’s candid, laugh-out-loud funny, and self-deprecating in a way that actually builds connection between her and the reader, helping you find your shared common ground with this brilliantly talented woman.

A Book You Picked Because You Liked the Cover or the Title

The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This book tells the story of twin sisters living with different racial identities (one black, one white) and how their lives unfold as they make complex and very different choices.

This year, I’ve set an intention to read more fiction. And, in exploring my options, I immediately fell in love with the radiant and kaleidoscopic cover of this book. Also, Brit Bennett is fantastic.

I love that this book about identity chose such a mesmerizing visual, with bright, contrasting colours and silhouettes. I’ll be listening to this book as an audiobook (have it on hold on Libby), but will love seeing the gorgeous cover every time I go to turn it on!


Emily's Picks

Emily Porta

Emily Porta co-founded and ran the Canadian not-for-profit Bridge School from 2016 to 2020. Bridge School was a highly innovative education organization that provided zero-cost advanced Web Development and Product Design courses to women, agender, and non-binary professionals in the Toronto tech industry.

Here are Emily's picks:

A Book Under 200 Pages Long

It's a Good Life if you Don't Weaken

It’s A Good life If You Don’t Weaken by Seth

Seth's first graphic novel is a book about what keeps you from happiness in life. The main character, Seth himself, spends the entire book brooding over a romanticized past he believes is far superior to the present. When he's not engaged in that, he's focused almost entirely on obsessing over classic strip comics and their creators. All things that take him further from his reality, while he largely ignores his family and friends.

While this doesn't sound like a fun read, over the course of the book we follow Seth on a journey that ultimately illustrates the importance of the simple things in life. It shows the positive impact of focusing on family and friends over the importance of "making it big," and that change can lead to the best things in life. Filled with illustrations of a 90's-era Toronto now radically changed, the novel only takes on more meaning over time.


A Book that Celebrates Books, Reading or Libraries

If On A Winter's Night a Traveler

If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

I'm only a few chapters into If On a Winter's Night a Traveler. It's hard to say. This post-modern book about a reader trying and failing wildly to read a book called "If On a Winter's Night a Traveler" is mind-bending and often hilarious, while also managing to say quite a few things about important subjects like censorship.

A detective story, a romance, a mystery, all wrapped up in one book, featuring you, maybe, as the main character(s). David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, reviewed the book as "not as breathtaking the second time around". High post-modernist praise.

Pamela's Picks

Pamela Robinson

Pamela Robinson is the Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Special Projects in the Faculty of Community Services and an associate professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University. She is also a registered professional planner.

Here are Pamela's picks:

A Book You Found Helpful

Black Software

Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter by Charlton D. McIlwain

My research and practice as an urban planner focuses on new technologies and what they mean for Canadian cities. In the last four years, there’s been an abundance of excellent books written about technology that focus on how it can, if we’re not careful, be a tool that more rapidly scales up processes of exclusion, oppression and alienation.

One book I recently read that I really hope other readers in this challenge will read is Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter by Charlton D. McIlwain. This book provides an important and often untold history of how Black communities have been leaders in technology development, while also fighting the negative impacts that new technologies can impose.

If readers like the book, there are also a number of podcasts in which you can listen to Professor McIllwain talk about his ideas, including:


A Book that is Older than You

New and Old Pickle Recipes

New and Old Pickle Recipes (from TPL’s Digital Archive)

When people ask me what my hobbies are, I always laugh. My go-to answer is: cooking. In my life at work, research can take a very long time. I love cooking because it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end and then there’s something to eat.

In my stash of cookbooks at home, I’ve got some old ones passed along from family members. They are curious and full of weird things – like squirrel pie, no thanks!

So for this reading challenge, I was curious about what old cookbooks I could find in the Toronto Public Library collection. There are so many and lots of them are ebooks. I chose this New and Old Pickle Recipes from 1933. It’s a cookbook created to get people to buy and use vinegar, but it’s got a wacky mix of useful and strange things in it. This book also fits for me in the category of a book that made me laugh.


Bianca's Picks

Bianca Wylie

Bianca Wylie is an open government advocate with a dual background in technology and public engagement. She leads work on public sector technology policy for Canada at Dgen Network and is the co-founder of Tech Reset Canada.

Here are Bianca's picks:

A Book About a Real Person

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

“The compilation of the OED began in 1857; it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honouring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane." - From the book jacket.

I chose this book because I like learning about words and language — they hold a lot of power. The story of how a book like this dictionary came to be feels like interesting history to reflect on in this moment, given the speed with which things we describe with words are being automated and digitized. This book also gets into the complexity of people, how we look at mental health, and how people get categorized, sometimes with words.

A Book Originally Written in a Language Other than Your First

 My First Seven Years

My first seven years (plus a few more) : A Memoir by Dario Fo

"An extraordinary coming-of-age memoir by the Nobel-Prize-winning playwright. My First Seven Years is Dario Fo's fantastic, enchanting memoir of his youth spent in Northern Italy on the shores of Lago Maggiore. As a child, Fo grew up in a picturesque village teeming with glass-blowers, smugglers and storytellers. Of his teenage years, Forecounts the struggles of the Fascists and Partisans, the years of World War II, and his own tragicomic experience trying to desert the Fascist army." - From the book jacket

I chose this book because it might make me feel closer to my mom during the pandemic. Sometimes when my mom is describing her life growing up in Italy, and the politics of it all, I can hear her words but can’t feel them in my body. I do keep trying though. Reading someone else’s effort to describe growing up there might help close that gap too, even a little bit. Worth a shot.

A Book About Something That Scares You

North American Watersnakes

North American Watersnakes : A Natural History by Whit Gibbons

"Many people fear snakes, and watersnakes in particular have one of the worst reputations of any snake found in North America. Some species are commonly mistaken for venomous cottonmouths, and a few may eat popular game fishes. Unfortunately, few people realize the important roles many watersnakes play in natural ecosystems and, consequently, they are still persecuted in many regions today.” - From the book jacket

I chose this book because watersnakes make me squirm but I know virtually nothing about them. I was tempted to pick a more abstract thing that scares me but these snakes make me shudder and it will be interesting to see if knowing more about them makes that better or worse. Good times.



What are your summer picks for the Reading Challenge? Let us know in the comments!


Related reading: