By the time I was nine, reading was no longer just something I liked to do but something I was compelled to do. As an only child in a single-parent household, in a tobacco-country village where the school sometimes combined grades to fill a classroom, where chronic illness and homemade clothes made me stand out even more than any other newcomer — I was alone a lot. Books helped.
By the time I was grown, I recognized that books made any situation better. When I was sad or sick, I would reread a favourite story. When I was celebrating or enjoying a day off, I would go to a library or bookstore. Even as an adult, at times I have retreated into my relationship with books. Maybe I do rely upon that relationship a little less now, but I recognize its value even more.
Now, more than half of the reading I do is related to my writing. For the past decade, I’ve read an average of 279 books each year. If statistics is your jam, you can browse my shelves on LibraryThing and GoodReads and peek at my decade of reading. (2020’s are here, if you like to keep current.)
In short, if I need to know something, I read. And I’m fortunate to live in a city with an outstanding public library system. If I want to know more about fast-fashion or Syria, I can quickly locate a dozen books on each topic. If someone recommends the FruitsBasket manga series or the works of Abdourahman A. Waberi? Another dozen heading my way. Such a privilege.
Reading makes my world bigger. Last year, 30% of my reading was penned by writers of colour and I visited 31 countries on the page. I read 15 books by indigenous authors and 31 works in translation. I read about people who work and live, dream and love differently than I do. And I often recognize myself on the page too. Books reliably offer a sense of belonging that I still search for in the world off-the-page.
I’ll still be reading for research in 2021. And for review work. But I’ll also be starting my Alistair MacLeod reading project (similar to my chronological read throughs of Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro). And I’ll continue long-term projects. Including a fresh focus on writers’ biographies and letters, slavery in the past and present-day, and migration (moving between spaces).
(Curious about the writing resources I’ve read and reviewed in particular? Eight each year, a mix of new and backlisted books. See here.)