Pocket-sized: really!

Margaret Goodfellow and Phil Goodfellow’s
A Guidebook to Contemporary Architecture in Toronto

Douglas&McIntyre, 2010

It’s perfectly pocket-sized and so it should be. It’s just the book that you want to pop in there when the sun is shining and you want to go exploring.

Lest you worry that this is a book which requires you to know something about architecture, I can assure you that I know next-to-nothing about it (actually, nothing), and I still love this wee volume.

Yes, there is a small chart which accompanies each double-spread and lists the architect(s) and information about relevant designers and artists, so perhaps when I’ve wandered a few more of these walks, I will know more.

But the book is of interest without any specialized knowledge, with only a passion for this city and the spaces in and around it.

I love to walk, and find the walks herein quite short, and when some of the buildings afford no access (the private dwellings) or very limited access (e.g. lobby access only), it sometimes feels as though the tour is over as soon as it’s begun.

So, for me, these are best used as adjunct exploring tours, rather than placing them at the heart of a major outing.

But really that serves to make this guidebook an ideal companion for…

For a bigger pocket!

Shawn Micallef’s
Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto
Illus. Marlena Zuber
Coach House Press, 2010

The author grew up in Windsor, Ontario, dreaming of Toronto. “The city was asking to be explored.”

I did not begin dreaming of Toronto until I was nearing 30. But I still felt as though he was speaking directly to me when he quoted Rebecca Solnit: “Cities move at the speed of walking.”

And, even more so, when he introduced two new-to-me concepts which gave words to feelings that I’d had for many years.

First, Charles Baudelaire’s concept of the flâneur, a “perfect idler”, a “passionate observer”.

The flâneur “wanders the city, slightly invisible, just on the outside of everything…from an anonymous perspective”.

And this fits beautifully with the book’s subtitle; the principles of psychogeography afford us the opportunity to wander. They give us permission (even encourage us!) to get lost, allow us to break “out of our usual routes, by following our fancy rather than our logic”, urging us to “go to places we wouldn’t normally choose to go”.

“When you walk through places that don’t fit your mental map of the city, you create what Bertolt Brecht called a verfremdungseffekt. Which is new-to-me concept number two.

Verfremdungseffekt means: a ‘distancing effect’, a way of “taking what’s familiar and making it strange”, a way of “letting some unpredictability seep into your routine”, so that you can see “what all the excitement is about”.

These concepts bolster the text of Stroll and the maps therein (by Marlena Zubar: would love to see her notebooks); they are not exact, they leave room for the reader, for the flâneur, for the verfremdungseffekt-er (yah, I know: it’s not intended to be used that way, but I’m making it my own kind of strange).

It is not intended as a Point-A-to-Point-B guidebook with strict start-and-stop markers.

Indeed, it doesn’t really work that way. (When I tried to force it, with part of the St. Clair walk, I ended up having to give my flâneur hat a good dusting off and get myself back to wandering, because finding that subway hatch just wasn’t happening with my destination-focussed attitude.)

The book worked best for me when I read a section, travelled to that general area, explored on my own without turning to the book, re-read the section, and went back again.

I’d most often be spotted flâneur-ing downtown, but for my first Stroll-ish outing, I read the section in Eastest for “Kingston-Galloway and Guildwood Village”.

I’d wanted to suss out the Guildwood Inn since I’d read And Beauty Answers, so the photograph in this section leapt off the page, and a bright, warm Saturday in early September found me following the instructions to dress for “rough terrain” and prepared to find no connecting walks but lots of scenic views.

I walked so long and hard that I had what I’m pretty sure should be termed a flâneur-hangover the next day, but that was fine, because I’d fallen in love with Guildwood, Stroll, and a part of the city I’d hardly given a thought to before that fine Saturday.

And, anyway, a quiet day at home gave me plenty of time to re-read that section of the book and see what I’d missed, and make more sense of what I’d seen, and to choose my next destination.

Both of these books are under consideration for the 2011 Heritage Toronto Awards.  [Edited to add that Shawn Micallef’s Stroll has won!]

Do you know these books?