Readers rewrite the books they remember. We occupy the books we’ve read, just as books occupy places, and places occupy books, ideas, and readers. Recently opening a book I took to the west coast in 2005, I flipped to the back page and found the old inscription left there for me by a traveller on a Vancouver beach: go to Ahousaht, he’d written. First Tofino, then Ahousaht, on Flores Island off the coast. Since that summer, whenever that book comes to mind, I think of that inscription, and about how big the waves were on Long Beach in Tofino that grey day I tried to read, and the people and surprising landscape I met in Ahousat, and about coming to the edge of the world and quoting Thomas King to ask, “Where did all the water come from?” The other day when I opened it again I was surprised to realize that King had autographed the book, Green Grass, Running Water, a book about the occupations of stories and landscape, and about how we live inside questions. He’d even written “for Jessica.” I remembered only the other inscription, the other occupant.
The essays in this issue take a variety of sidelong glances at occupation in all its masks and guises. Peter Smiley considers a filmmaker whose work re-inhabits the BBC’s video archive, and Mark Milner calls out Stephen Leacock’s occupation of Orillia. Dylan Reid finds a history of contemporary mask panic in early modern France, and Alex Willis outlines Ezra Levant’s denial of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr’s right to occupy Canada. Brett Story reviews two new documentaries and looks at what it means to occupy a solitary jail cell. Lucas Van Meer-Mass discusses the Toronto habitations made visible by photographer Patrick Cummins. Brendan de Caires returns to Trinidad and Tobago to ask how literature occupies Port of Spain. In one of her first English publications, celebrated Chinese poet Wu Ang glances at transnational marriage and Tchaikovsky. Jonathan Ball’s haiku gives the National Gallery a new occupant, while Godfre Leung considers 1970s precursors to today’s New York museum occupations.
This issue doesn’t pretend to suggest the full spectrum of occupation: no one has written here about the Middle East, or about Canada’s occupation of aboriginal land, nor do we for the most part look directly at the Occupy Wall Street protests, whose novel uses of the word “occupy” inspired this issue. As Quebec’s Law 78 continues to undermine the right of folks to occupy public space in protest, this week marks the two-year anniversary of the G20 meetings in Toronto and the resulting wounds to everyday life in the city. We feel it’s important to keep finding new ways to talk about the occupations of that week: this collection of fine work is our word in that conversation.
This issue, our fourth, also completes our first year of publishing quarterly issues of wide-ranging review essays and poetry, impassioned blog posts on Chirograph, and the recorded voices of international scholars on our podcast. To mark this exciting milestone, we decided to grow our site: we’ve redesigned our main page for easier navigation, implemented a mobile site, and are thrilled to be offering our first issue in PDF and EPUB formats for tablets.
We are always working to create better experiences for our readers, whether online, or in person at our events. More than ever, The Toronto Review of Books is committed to protecting accessible and public spaces for ideas—places where divergent perspectives can dwell together; room for insisting, as Canadian legislators gleefully restrict our protest rights, on speaking in public. To celebrate this resolve, and in honour of the Occupy issue, this evening The Toronto Review of Books is hosting an emphatic and resplendent masquerade. In his essay in this issue, Dylan Reid points out that we’re witnessing widespread panic about adults wearing masks in public. We’ve decided to party instead of panicking. Join us—tonight, and for the parade of the coming year.