I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately. Books are a passion only recently rediscovered; I’m trying my best to make up for lost time, but I haven’t read very many books over the past decade or so. As a child I read novels constantly, and I’m not sure exactly how or when I fell out of the habit. It may have been around the time I left home—I moved across the continent at eighteen with only the belongings I could carry with me on the airplane, and the books I brought from British Columbia were only the small handful I absolutely couldn’t live without.
In the years after my airplane landed in Toronto I spent hours reading literary journals at the library, but mostly I’d become a voracious reader of newspapers and magazines. I developed an adoration for the International Herald Tribune and The New Yorker and I didn’t read books very often, although after a few years I found that I was trying to write one.
It’s been exactly twelve months since I sold my first novel. I think it’s really only been over the course this hectic and delightful past year that I’ve remembered how much books mean to me, and how soothing it is to find yourself in a room filled with them, and how perfectly a good book can transport you elsewhere. I’m not sure how I forgot these things.
I see people reading everywhere in my city, on benches during their lunch hours and on the trains to and from work. It’s partly a question of refuge: in a city as crowded as New York, books and headphones are our only privacy. In other places people commute alone in their cars; but packed into a subway car with a hundred strangers, the only way to be alone is to disappear into music or narrative.
But questions of escape aside, I’ve been thinking lately about the way the experience of reading a book over a number of days provides us with a certain continuity, a narrative thread that binds our days and our weeks. Like most writers, I lead a double life, and these two lives are entirely separate. There’s the day job: I do the filing and stare at spreadsheets and count down the hours to the end of the afternoon, and then I go home and attend to an entirely other, considerably more vivid life, a life that involves writing novels and approving copy edits and talking to booksellers and fielding interview requests.
My working and writing lives couldn’t possibly be more different, and it occurred to me recently that reading is the only bridge between them. The same book carries me from the morning commute to the calm hours of the late evening, the joys and responsibilities of the double life set aside for the day.
"Last Night in Montreal" by Emily St. John Mandel is available at the Bookmark at the U and at our online fulfillment partner, Powell's Books, and wherever great books are sold.