Metro Morning

New head of Toronto's special sci-fi and fantasy collection on 3 books that changed her life

Of the roughly 80,000 titles in the Toronto Public Library's science fiction and fantasy collection, Sephora Hosein shares three that made her fall in love with the genres.

Sephora Hosein takes over Merril Collection, containing about 80,000 works, from 30-year veteran

Sephora Hosein is the new senior department head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy at the Toronto Public Library. (Brendan Ross/CBC)

For the first time in decades, the Toronto Public Library's special collection of about 80,000 works of science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels and related materials is under new leadership.

Originally called the "Spaced Out Library," the collection came about in 1970, when author Judith Merril donated her personal collection to the library.

The collection's mission is to hold a copy of every work of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction written in the English language. It's the only collection of its kind in Canada to be open to the general public.

Librarian Lorna Toolis took the reins in 1986. She retired earlier this year, and Sephora Hosein jumped at the chance to succeed her.

Hosein's father was a film projectionist. She traces her interest in genre fiction back to being a child, watching movies like Labyrinth and The Neverending Story from the projection booth while he worked. Already an avid reader, she soon started looking for any books that looked like science fiction or fantasy.

She told CBC's Metro Morning about three books that helped her fall in love with those genres.


Hosein describes Frank Herbert's epic Dune as her "absolute favourite science fiction book of all time."

She isn't sure how she discovered it, but thinks it may have been through the 1984 film adaptation. "When you hear a book is this good, and see a film that's that bad, you almost want to prove yourself wrong," she said.

"It's the story of a young, 15-year-old boy who's taken from this very water-rich planet of Caladan, to this desert place, colloquially called Dune. It's this place where water is this precious thing that is in short supply at all times.

"It's rich with the languages and cultures of the different people living there. It talks about planetary ecology. I think in a lot of ways it relates to some of the Indigenous issues we're hearing about.

"It almost has a prophetic quality. I think back to this book for so many reasons. Someone will say something completely unrelated and I'll think, 'I read that in Dune.'"

Mythago Wood

Robert Holdstock's fantasy novel Mythago Wood is the first in a series, but Hosein decided not to read any of the sequels. "I haven't read the others in this series, almost because I don't want to mar what I've read from this one," she said. 
Sephora Hosein is in charge of the library's collection of around 80,000 works of science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels and more. (Brendan Ross/CBC)

"It's about a person who finds a portal into this mythical wood. His own conscious mind, and the kinds of things he believes about the myths he's read over his lifetime, start to influence the things he sees in the woods and the people who come out of it.

"This one is really special to me. I've read and re-read it, I've gifted it to others. I think when I read it, I wasn't thinking this was a piece of fantasy. I don't think I really thought about... those kinds of categories. I just knew what I really liked to read, and I wanted to seek out more things that captivated me this way."

The Queen of the Damned

Hosein came upon The Queen of the Damned, the third book in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" series, by chance. Her father found it in the cinema's lost and found and brought it home. "He tossed it at me and said, 'Here, you like this crap,'" she said.

"And I read it and I was absolutely spellbound. I think that really started off my love of vampire lore in general. I didn't know it was the third part of a trilogy... and I've since read all of her work and I absolutely love it.

"I think it's just Anne Rice's writing in general and her love for this character Lestat. It also had a strong female character... and it had vampires, stuff I'm not supposed to be reading. But I was reading it and enjoying it, and it was kind of forbidden and cool."