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ARTS: Get other-worldly at the Toronto Reference Library (Fall 2021)

November 11th, 2021 · No Comments

Fall of 2021 is as good a time as any to escape planet earth 

Science fiction writer Judith Merril in the Spaced-Out Library, then located at 566 Palmerston Ave., 1975. Courtesy Toronto Star Photograph Archive from the Toronto Public Library website

By Meribeth Deen

Back in 1969, Judith Merril, “the little mother of science fiction,” wanted to escape a world where anti-war demonstrators were persecuted, so she crossed the border and made Toronto her home. In that first year living in Toronto, she founded a library at Rochdale College, a free university where students and teachers lived together and learned from one another. In 1970, Merril donated the 5,000 books that made up that library to the Toronto Public Library to create what is now fondly known as the Spaced Out Library. From now until January 2, 2022, you can explore the vast repository of weird, wonderful otherworldly books at the Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge St).

The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction and Fantasy, as it is officially known, has grown to include more than 80,000 items and is recognized as one of the world’s premier collections of the genre. It covers parallel worlds, dystopias, epic fantasy, horror, space fiction, ESP and more. The collection included not only fiction books, but also non-fiction critical works, biographies, pulp magazines, graphic novels, manuscripts, periodicals, original art and role-playing game books. Highlights include the first editions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. If you find yourself at the Spaced Out Library, you can also check out rare books like the Codex Seraphinianus, by the Milanese designer and artist Luigi Serafini, which is an encyclopedia of an imaginary world. 

To get prepped for your visit to Spaced Out, staff at the Merril Collection have created a reading list of speculative fiction that spans 18 sub-genres. Maybe you’ve never considered yourself a fan of fantasy or sci-fi – but why not give it a try with some of these recommendations? And if you just want to step cautiously out of this world – just pick up a short story. The long-time head of the collection, Lorna Toolis (who passed away in August, 2021) said Ray Bradbury’s The Sound of Thunder was the most requested short story ever.

Authors including Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow and Lois Bujold have all visited this collection, so why not count yourself among them?

If you really don’t want to – but really love books, the Bloor St. Culture Corridor has plenty of other bookish events and activities to offer this month. Between October 14 and 16th, A Different Booklist will host the Black and Caribbean Book Affair Online, showcasing new books by some of the country’s foremost Black educators, poets, and novelists. Each event (live-streamed over Facebook) will host bold discussions on issues of race, colour, education, discrimination, identity, COVID-19, self-empowerment and more.

The Miles Nadal JCC will be hosting a book launch on October 14 for author David Weitzner, celebrating his new book, Connected Capitalism: How Jewish Wisdom Can Transform Work

To find a complete list of events and offerings being put forward on the Bloor St. Culture Corridor, go to bloorstculturecorridor.comRoc and look on the “Things to Do” page.

Tags: Annex · Arts