The yearly Salon du Livre has been a Montreal institution for decades now, and its sheer size matches its reputation. Taking over the entire Palais de Congrès downtown from the 22nd to the 26th of November, it offers pretty much anything any reader could conceivably want—and then some. Yet the size of it somehow doesn’t feel intimidating. The layout is a bit like a theme park, designed to continually pull visitors towards the next attraction. And as with a theme park, the crowd on opening day felt distinctly preadolescent.
Less so than usual, though. The teachers’ strike in Quebec means that the usual school trips that bring tens of thousands of kids to the Salon are mostly nixed. Indeed, the only uniforms this reporter (admittedly not known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Montreal student dress) could spot were those of private or special needs schools. Even so, there were plenty of kids, largely accompanied by their parents. Evidently, the Salon’s tactic this year of allowing free entry for anyone under 16 and their guardians paid off.
The busiest booth on Wednesday was certainly the Zone Manga, sponsored and hosted by local store O-Taku Lounge, which unsurprisingly struck a chord with Generation Alpha. Overall, there was a vast amount of ‘jeunesse’ content in general, aligned with head organizer Olivier Gougeon’s avowed commitment to promote reading for all ages—and all backgrounds.
To that end, the Salon this year boasts multiple new booths spotlighting cultural and ethnic groups rarely seen in Francophone literary spaces alongside established giants like Gallimard and Editions Casterman. These newcomers include Editions Tintamarre, a Louisiana press putting out the first original Creole-language American books in over a hundred years, and Livres d’Ukraine (sponsored by the Club Ukrainien de Montréal), featuring books in French, English, and Ukrainian by both Ukrainian nationals and members of the diaspora.
Unusually for the Franco literary scene, genre diversity is also very much present. Folio Classiques have on hand French translations of Asimov and Lovecraft, among others, and the children’s/YA literature stalls are naturally brimming with dragons, superheroes, and aliens. More literary contemporary Canadian SF/F authors are also spotlighted, with the likes of Natasha Kanapé Fontaine appearing in person to promote their books (in her case, the surrealistic Kanatuut, steeped in Innu folklore).
[M. Gougeon] added that this would always be a Francophone event—with writers coming from as far as France, Belgium, Martinique, and others, there was little doubt about that—but in these times when the very existence of Anglophone Quebecois seems imperilled, there will always be a place for English here.
The overall representation of SF/F is bolstered by the unexpectedly major presence of the genre-focused Saga Bookstore in the Anglophone Québec Writers’ Federation (QWF) spot usually taken by Paragraphe Bookstore. Mathieu Lauzon-Dicso, co-founder and owner of Saga, said that when the larger store pulled out, he was contacted by the Salon at the last minute and asked to take their place. Though he had not originally planned to attend at all—it conflicted with an anniversary!—he thought it important to represent English writing in Quebec at the Salon and SF/F in English especially.
M. Gougeon, speaking to ImaginAtlas, reiterated this sentiment, asserting that Montreal is a multicultural city and the Salon has a duty to reflect that. He added that this would always be a Francophone event—with writers coming from as far as France, Belgium, Martinique, and others, there was little doubt about that—but in these times when the very existence of Anglophone Quebecois seems imperilled, there will always be a place for English here.
The theme for this year’s Salon (its 46th iteration) is, aptly enough, “Être humain”. It seems that the organizers have interpreted that motto in the most inclusive sense, choosing to validate all forms of the human experience, including those facing assimilation, invasion, or discrimination—from the refugees in Ukraine to linguistic minorities in Montreal. That in itself seems like a radical, praiseworthy action these days. This extravagant, remarkable celebration of the common love of literature and storytelling that unites us as human beings is not to be missed. Bon Salon!
Salon du Livre runs from November 22 to 26, 2023, at the Palais Congrès de Montréal.