April 21st, 2011

Rose-coloured reviews the launch party for *And Also Sharks*

Jessica Westhead is the author of the acclaimed novel Pulpy and Midge from 2007, and a new collection of short stories, And Also Sharks, which launched yesterday evening at Toronto Underground Cinema.

Jessica is also a warmhearted, endlessly engaged and generous presence on the Toronto literary scene, always organizing something cool and cheering others on to do likewise. Her launch party was a chance not only for those of us who adore her and her work to show our support (and you should have seen the crowd), but for Jessica’s generosity to find a new expression, as an expert hostess. I’ve never seen a writer work so hard to make her book launch not just a sale opportunity or a validictory address, but a fun and delightful evening for all who attended.

The Toronto Underground Cinema is at the back of a mall in Chinatown. It’s badly marked from the street, and once inside the (mainly defunct) mall, you have to walk down a long hallway, the floor covered in kraft paper for some reason. Then there’s a flight of stairs, and the smell of popcorn. You turn around on a landing and suddenly you can see a milling crowd of chattering friends at the bottom of the stairs–and those down there can watch new arrivals cruise down the stairs, as if at the Oscars. It’s really neat–and the space is huge, spiffy, and adorned with tentacles coming out of the wall(??)

It was nice to see the author all dolled up for the occasion, at the bottom of the stairs giving and receiving hugs. After I’d gotten mine, I milled and chatted for a bit, then went to the photo area, where Jessica’s husband Derek Wuenschirs would take your portrait (with a very professional setup!), then photoshop it onto the cover of *And Also Sharks* as a keepsake souvenir. See Kerry and Stuart‘s photo for an adorable example.

After that, there was buying a book–of course–and picking up *And Also Sharks* swag like a button, a bookmark, and some blue-raspberry shark gummies. The table was run by the folks at Type Books, and was very well-stocked and well-organized. They even took credit cards!!

The movie theatre’s concession stand was also running, serving soda and popcorn, as well as wine and beer. I can’t figure out from the website if the Underground is usually licensed, or this was a special thing for the night, but either way, the crowd seemed quite appreciative.

And, then! As if that weren’t enough, we all filed into the theatre for a speech from Marc Cote of Cormorant Books, *And Also Sharks*’s publisher. He was genuinely enthused, and funny, and then he very gallantly helped the author of the evening onto the stage.

Jessica introduced the two book trailers she and many talented others put together, which were both wonderful. After the trailers, she gave a series of heartfelt thanks for the help with the evening and book, which made you realize how much planning had gone into the launch: the folks at the theatre, the photography setup, the specially selected music, the trailers, etc., etc. You could see why the evening was so great–because great people worked hard to make it so.

And then, in my opinion, the best part: Jessica gave a short, stellar reading from her story “Coconut.” Then we applauded hard, and all filed back out to the foyer (actually, I think some stayed to watch a silent version of *Jaws). Some left, some joined the long but friendly line for autographs (I did), some got further librations. I know the party raged much longer into the evening, but I had to depart. What a great time!

A book launch is such a great chance to for an author to celebrate his/her work, as well as share it with others, but I’ve noticed a trend towards the less-is-more launch, lately–mainly chatting and drinking, with a quick set of thank yous and a mini-reading, totalling perhaps 5 or 10 minutes. This is lovely if you are good friends with the author and his or her other friends; rather awkward if you’re just a fan or someone who saw a Facebook invitation and thought the book looked interesting. It’s also a bit anticlimatic for those of us who need to take a bus, a subway, and a streetcar to arrive at most downtown events (cough). The thing I loved about the *And Also Sharks* launch is that it was for everyone–friends and fans and people who just turned up wondering what all the fuss was about. You were able to get a good idea of what both book and author are like, and make a fairly well-considered decision at the book table, if so inclined. And it was tonnes of fun and the author made it charmingly clear she was glad each of us came.

But the best part is now I get to read the book.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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