Montreal's Holiday Pop-Up Book Fair a cosy start to the season

There's no messing with success for the "intimate gathering of writers, publishers and book lovers,” returning for a fifth year with a lineup that includes everyone from Sean Michaels to Amy Fish.

Giller-winning author Sean Michaels curates The Paper City: A Literary Map, billed as a session of readings “exploring urban life through literature,” at the Holiday Pop-Up Book Fair. Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette files

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“We’re not aiming to be the biggest fair of the year, or even the season.”

Anna Leventhal, executive director of the Association of English-language Publishers of Quebec (AELAQ), is talking about the Holiday Pop-Up Book Fair, of which the AELAQ is a co-presenter along with the Quebec Writers’ Federation. Her words may have a touch of self-effacement about them, but when an event has firmly established its own niche on the local cultural scene in the remarkably short span of five years, it’s clear they’re on to something.

“The fair started in 2015 as a cosy, intimate gathering of writers, publishers and book lovers,” said Leventhal. “Now, in 2019 … it’s a cosy, intimate gathering of writers, publishers and book lovers.”

So, no messing with success. And why would they? The fair’s growth has been organic, from the initial single-day gathering at the Atwater Library to this year’s two-day affair in the more spacious but still intimate ground-floor atrium of Concordia University’s McConnell Building. It’s an accomplishment that’s all the more impressive when you look at the calendar. Coming so soon after the colossus that is the mostly French-language Salon du Livre, you might think this smaller cousin would get lost in the backwash. In practice, though, the two events complement each other nicely: those still buzzing from the full-on Salon experience can pleasurably decompress at a smaller-scale event that caters to English-language readers.

“We have seven or eight more publishing houses exhibiting than we did that first year, and a record number of authors this year — 122 at last count,” said Leventhal. “But it’s still on a level which, to me, feels personal and friendly and manageable. We’re happy to bring people together in a space where you can check out the depth and breadth of books published here in Quebec.”

Susan Doherty is on the very long list of writers featured at the Holiday Pop-Up Book Fair. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette files

Sean Michaels, one of this year’s star attractions, is a writer with a solid sense of how to invest a reading with an added sense of occasion: the Scotiabank Giller winner recently launched his novel The Wagers in Supermarché PA on Parc Ave. At the fair on Saturday he curates The Paper City: A Literary Map, billed as “exploring urban life through literature.”

“Just as a reader, I’m excited to meet and acknowledge so many of the city’s page-penners,” Michaels said. “The Paper City is going to be a dazzling array of writers from across fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including a couple of students whose work was selected blind. I invited some of my local favourites — scene-stealers and weather-makers, a diverse gang of storytellers who will hopefully make me the least interesting part of the afternoon.” Michaels’s hand-picked multi-genre lineup includes Domenica Martinello, Fawn Parker, Kaie Kellough, Gary Freeman, Addie Tsai, Taras Grescoe and Karen McBride.

“The fair is a way to reach local readers with books that often fly under the radar,” said poet Derek Webster. “Publishers and authors also get a chance to connect with readers, which is always energizing.” Webster is among the contributors to Véhicule Press’s Nyla Matuk-edited anthology Resisting Canada, a gathering of work by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians to be launched on Sunday.

Relative newcomers to Montreal looking for an introduction to the scene, or even just people who are always telling themselves they should get out more, are in for a true boon. It would take at least a year’s worth of cinq-à-septs to see as many writers as the fair presents in one weekend. Megan Gail Coles, David Homel, Susan Doherty, Mark Abley, Gail Scott, Amy Fish, Gretchen McCulloch, Allan Globensky, Bindu Suresh, Sherwin Tjia, Alison Rowley, Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau are among the 120-plus featured.

There is, of course, an aspect to all this that’s so obvious, it’s tempting to leave it unmentioned. But let’s mention it anyway: the first word in the Holiday Pop-Up Book Fair’s name is a reminder that this is a perfect opportunity not only to get a good portion of your Christmas shopping done in one place, but to do it before peak-season madness hits.

At its core, though, this is an event about bringing together people who share an interest that, for most of the year, is a solitary pursuit. Leventhal’s advised strategy for prospective attendees sums it up:

“Meet a local writer or two, have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and leave feeling like books and writers are part of your community.”

AT A GLANCE

The Holiday Pop-Up Book Fair takes place Saturday, Nov. 30 and Sunday, Dec. 1 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the atrium of Concordia University’s McConnell Building, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Admission to the fair and all events is free. For complete information, see aelaq.org/bookfair.

ianmcgillis2@gmail.com

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