Photo: Courtesy of the author
David Mirvish’s Must-Reads Range from the Classics to Pure Canadiana
The theatre producer, art collector and real estate developer reveals the books that inspired him and defined him / BY Shinan Govani / October 4th, 2023
David Mirvish was born into a family that would stamp its name on the city of Toronto, including an empire of theatres, restaurants and, of course, the dearly departed Honest Ed’s, the iconic bargain emporium named for his late father, Ed Mirvish, that was once every bit a tourist attraction as the CN Tower. The patriarch’s son, however, always seemed content with forging his own, more bookish, route to success.
Leaving the larger-than-life showmanship to his dad, David carved out his own path, and even opened David Mirvish Books, an independent bookstore that would stand for more than 35 years. Along the way, the soft-spoken scion built an enviable art collection (one of the most significant in the country), brought innumerable live productions to the city (shows like The Six are en route to the Royal Alexandra Theatre this fall) and dabbled in real estate (a collaboration with architect Frank Gehry is ongoing). For David, books are his great love, and always will be. Recently, we checked in with the 79-year-old to get the lowdown on his reading life.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
I don’t read books to find the best one. I read the book that fits the necessity of the moment. The first book I read when we were locked down during COVID was Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other by Ken Dryden. It bucked up my spirits. The life in Montreal that Dryden describes reminded me of my father and the life he led. People coming out of a working-class background and doing their very best, having their high and low moments and being an inspiration. It’s a book full of humanity.
What book can’t you wait to dive into?
I was recently in a bookstore and saw Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje on the shelf. I had read The English Patient and In the Skin of a Lion and loved both. It has been out for a while and although I’m late to the table, I’m looking forward to it.
What’s your favourite book of all time?
When I was 13, I made a new public school friend, Alkis Klonaridis. He was living in Toronto to improve his English, and to do so he was reading Dickens, Thackeray and Alexandre Dumas in translation. He introduced me to The Count of Monte Cristo. At the same time, my Grade 9 art teacher, Bill Featherstone, introduced me to the opposite sex by recommending The Foxes of Harrow by Frank Yerby. These were transformative books.
What book completely changed your perspective?
In 1961, John Rewald published two books, The History of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. I sat in the back of my English class devouring them. Two years later, I opened the David Mirvish Gallery. Brian Meeson, who had been my high school English teacher, became the head of drama at what is now Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). I asked him years later if he knew that I had been sitting reading these books furtively and his response was, “I had a student who had a passion, why would I disturb that, and besides you were passing my course.”
Also, David Smith, a great American sculptor, said that if you read Ulysses you never had to read another book. It was the book of his generation, and every few years I return to it and try to read my way through. I never make it and I never give up trying.
If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Having dinner with someone who’s dead doesn’t sound like much fun. I admire the critic and art historian Michael Fried, who wrote Art and Objecthood, but since we’ve had dinner with each other, I’d like to opt for dinner with Rob Goodman, an assistant professor of politics and public administration at TMU. He has just published a book that I finished last night — Not Here: Why American Democracy Is Eroding and How Canada Can Protect Itself.