Recently, I’ve had a few people ask me why I put so much of my time into reviewing books. Generally, I give a fairly light-hearted response… “No kids. Love reading.” Honestly, there’s more to it than that.
When I was four years old, I went into a book store with my parents. I wanted a book to read. I could “read” the books we had at home but Mum was convinced that I was memorizing them because she read them nightly. She gave me the challenge that if I could read aloud from a book that I’d never seen before… I could have it. Never one to pass up a challenge I chose “Josie, Pip & Squeak”. I picked up the book, read it, Mum bought it and there was no looking back.
My whole family read. My Nan introduced me to the “Lord of the Rings”, my Grandad lent me books about New Age & Archaeological sites in England. My Dad was always reading… every night before bed, mysteries, often drama and action or science fiction. My Mum and I had similar taste in books, her favourite book was “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch… and she loved Terry Pratchett.
The very first book I read that stuck with me was “Surfacing” by Margaret Atwood. We studied it in High School and it was really my introduction to adult literature. I loved it. It broke my heart, made me think and made me long to be a writer.
In our family, books also marked important occasions. And, because we didn’t live in a time when we were likely to purchase “author signed” copies online, we would inscribe the books to one another. I miss this. It means a lot to be able to pick up a book I’ve had for years and remember, not only the words contained inside but the sentiment of the gift.
Let me show you one…. when I was 16 I discovered my love and obsession: Shakespeare. My Grandparents took me to see several plays at Stratford-Upon-Avon. As my introduction… they chose tickets to see Kenneth Brannagh play Henry V. We were five rows from the stage and I was entranced. We stayed up late discussing the play and the following morning I lined up to get tickets to see whatever I could. I managed to acquire back row (literally) seats to see Anthony Sher in his critically acclaimed lead role of “Richard III”. Even from half a mile away … I loved it. The following Christmas my Nan and Grandad sent me Sher’s book: “The Year Of The King”.
Seeing Mr. Sher play that role was life-changing for me. I’d never seen someone so committed, so talented… and I believed. Reading the book always brings the joy of that day back to me and has given me such respect for the craft of acting.
My very first job was in a bookstore. I was fourteen years old and “Golden Apple Books” in Peace River, Alberta was the only place in town that I wanted to work. I remember one summer, author Grant McEwan was coming to the bookstore to sign his latest release. Rather than staying in a hotel, he wanted simply a comfortable chair to nap in, some tea and peanut butter. My Mum and Dad were glad to have him at our house for a few hours. What a lovely soul he was.
Then when I was attending University I worked at “Aspen Books” in Edmonton. I got to know many authors there and the one who I most enjoyed was W.O. Mitchell. I loved working with Mr. Mitchell and did so a few times as he was the writer in residence at the University. He eventually called me the “best mackerel splitter” he’d ever worked with… as I had good timing at opening the books and sliding them in front of him as he finished up with the previous customer. The last time I worked with Mr. MItchell I was finally brave enough to take in my copy of “Who Has Seen The Wind” that was battered and damaged from years of reading. He said that meant that a book was well-loved and grinned at me. I still have it.
One of the first books I read that focused on a gay character, was “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin. It may not be the very first one I read, but it was the first one to have a tremendous impact on me. It’s a tragic story really, and everyone will take away a different message from it…but it’s remarkable. It was originally published in 1956. What courage it must have taken for James Baldwin to write something that would speak to so many people.
Baldwin was one of the first authors to write about bisexuality. “Giovanni’s Room” is an exploration of masculinity (always called manhood in this book), and fitting into different cultures.
By the time I was in my second year of University my two closest friends were gay men… and their culture was mine. I was welcomed and loved by the community. Naturally, I read books about the LGBTQ Community because they represented the life I lived and the people I loved. That hasn’t changed as I’ve gotten older. The people in my life had changed, many of them lost to HIV/AIDS, but the world of Queer Literature always brings them back to me. It’s a world that I belong in and enjoy.
Really, the reason I review books and work at a Library is that I want people to know how fabulous reading is. You can learn things, live a different life for a while, meet fabulous people on the page and in real life. Reading is… as Ru Paul always says… “fundamental”.
Diversity. The World needs more.
Books in this post if you’re curious:
- The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard #1) by Scott Lynch
- The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
- Year Of The King: An Actor’s Diary And Sketchbook by Antony Sher
- Who Has Seen The Wind by W.O. Mitchell
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin