Recently on “Classical Mornings”, Jean told Mike about the reading habits of Canadians when it comes specifically to books: one quarter of Canadians haven’t read a single book in the past year. I was as shocked as Mike by the numbers. Having grown up in a seriously book-oriented family, I can’t imagine a home without books. My father built bookshelves to line most of the walls in the house – even the narrow corridor to the laundry area, filled with science fiction and English poetry books. The Matriarch, as I call my mother, has custom-built bookshelves in her condo; they’re full of Japanese literature, several editions of Jane Austen books (including those she has translated into Japanese), and my favourite, her Beatrix Potter collection. My dad was so earnest about reading he read all the books of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein to my brothers and me individually, when we were kids. He’d track the words I could spell and define; once I reached a hundred, he’d take me to Jolly’s, the ice cream parlour, for a banana split. I still read every day – sometimes a few pages, or just a few paragraphs, before lights out. Since we have a resident literary expert in Mike (who occasionally interviews authors), I thought I’d lob him a few questions.
What got you hooked on reading?
What got me hooked? Well, my parents are both voracious readers and certainly them reading to me as a child was great and they set a wonderful example. But what pushed me to read on my own at a young age were comic books and dinosaurs. With comics, while you could follow the pictures, you really didn’t understand what exactly was going on. And so to truly figure out how Batman got out of that mess, I had to read it. And dinosaurs have always (even up to the present) fascinated me. I’d see pictures of these fantastical beasts and had to learn everything i could about them.
Looks like our parents had a love for books in common. Does it matter when we read? I tend to read for a few minutes in bed before falling asleep. I don’t MEAN for reading to be a sleep aid, but it’s better than taking drugs, right?
I don’t think it matters when one reads, as long as one does! I read anytime anywhere. In the *car, on transit, In a waiting room. I’ll read in bed before sleep, on the couch in the afternoon, at breakfast. The only thing I need is time. (*Editor’s note: Mike clarified he reads only when he is a passenger in the car.)
What are your reading criteria?
The material has to be good. There was a time when I was not so picky and would read practically anything but I’m a little more discerning now. I tend to work my way through an author’s entire oeuvre now. I guess if I have habit, it is getting up before everyone else on the weekend, having a coffee and quietly reading.
How can reading compete with the constant competition for our eyes? There are phones, tablets, Netflix …. why are people so fixated on visuals instead of words?
Reading does have a tougher go these days compared to other media (but honestly, when has the death of the novel NOT been proclaimed?). Watching YouTube or Netflix of television is easier because one doesn’t have to work at it. It is all presented for you; location, story, dialogue. Its ready-made. No thinking required. With reading, you have to provide that. And that’s what makes it so great! You and I could read the same book, but how it plays out in our minds will be absolutely different! Any version of a story in my head will be ultimately superior to anything Hollywood would produce – my budget is infinite! I don’t understand people who say they have no time for reading when they spend so much time staring at their phones.
You’re right. I need to look at my phone (and TV) less; and read books some more! If someone’s extent of reading is magazines and news headlines, is that enough?
Magazines are great! But if your entire reading life is just headlines, you aren’t reading. You’re scanning. You are getting no substance or context behind the headline. You aren’t reading something and then applying your own experience to it. You aren’t thinking – you are only superficially accumulating talking points. And I think culturally, this is a huge contributor to our current political and social malaise.
I think you’re on to something. You often have more than one book on the go. What is currently on your coffee table (or nightstand table … or next to your lazy boy … )?
I have two places for books – my nightstand and the living room table. Looks like I have five things on the go right now….the April 18th edition of The New York Review of Books, Anakana Schofield’s new novel “Bina” (Knopf Canada), Norman Mailer’s “Essays Of The 60’s” (Library of America), “Why Religion?” by Elaine Pagels (Ecco Books) and a scientific paper on a new species of Tyrannosaur. Some light reading. 🙂
What do you enjoy about interviewing authors?
Oh man, I love talking to authors. They are accustomed to thinking and discussing their craft on a level that few artists can. They live with their work every waking moment. They aren’t afraid of deep or penetrating questions. I enjoy learning about their thought processes and what went into the book. Is it a reflection of who they are, what they believe. Picking an authors brain – whether it is fiction or non- can be as fascinating as the work itself. Plus, you get to meet some of your heroes!!!
Thanks, Mike! Everyone – pick up a book and fire up your imaginations!