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 229 books each year. If statistics is your jam, you can browse my shelves on LibraryThing and GoodReads and peek at my summary of 2018’s reading. (2019’s will be complete in January.)
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, 34% of my reading was penned by writers of colour and I visited 27 countries on the page. I read 29 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 2020. And for review work. But I’ll also be finishing my Mavis Gallant reading project (which began with a chronological read through of her stories in 2017) and choosing a new short story writer to explore. And I’ll begin three new long-term projects. Including a new monthly focus on writers’ biographies and letters. More details to come.
(Curious about the writing resources I’ve read and reviewed in particular? Eight each year, a mix of new and backlisted books. See here.)