Thursday, January 05, 2006

New Year's Resolutions

I come from a secular, Scottish family and New Year’s Eve, or rather Hogmanay, has always been a more important holiday for me than Christmas. I love the idea of a fresh start at the beginning of each year, and I can never resist the ritual of making resolutions however improbable actually sticking to some of them might be.

That said, I don’t feel the need to make any dramatic changes in my reading habits. Some might say that I lack focus. But I like the way I read, picking up whatever book strikes my fancy at a given moment, ever alert to new possibilities emanating from friends’ suggestions, public readings, writers’ festivals, and reviews and author interviews that appear in various literary media. I particularly relish the way that books often lead me to other books. Some of my best discoveries have resulted from a passing mention of a forgotten writer in a biography of someone better known. If I planned my reading methodically, what chance would there be of discovering an unexpected gem? Then again, perhaps if I was more methodical about the search, I would discover more new, fabulous books. With all that in mind, I lay out the following aspirations for 2006:

1. Read the work alongside the biographies: There are a few new biographies that I eagerly anticipate reading this year, in particular, Julia Briggs’s Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life and Robert Thacker’s Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives. When I do, I plan to re-visit these authors’ work as I read about their lives.

2. Re-visit a few more writers from my pantheon of greats: There are a number of writers whose work I admire enormously, but it’s been so long since I read it, I’d be hard pressed to articulate exactly why. I want to go back and re-read some of these authors, beginning with the novels of Muriel Spark and the short stories of Jean Stafford.

3. Read some Beckett: I plan to read some of Samuel Beckett's work this year in honour of the centenary of his birth.

4. Search out small press titles from outside Canada: I regularly read books published by Canadian small presses. But I’m barely acquainted with small presses outside of Canada. This means that the books I read by non-Canadian authors are usually the well-known ones that are short-listed for prizes and reviewed in the New York Times. This means that I’m missing an awful lot. Becoming a regular reader of various litblogs over the past year has gone some way to rectifying the situation. For example, thanks to the presence of Soft Skull Press in the blogosphere, several of their titles have caught my eye and I'll be seeking those out. But I plan to become more active in the quest to unearth small press books and little-known (at least to me) authors from outside Canada.

5. Devote more blog space to discussion of Canadian small press books: It’s likely that many readers outside of Canada are as unfamiliar with the work of authors published by Canadian small presses as I am with the work of authors published by the small presses of other countries. So I will make a more concerted effort to talk up some of the Canadian books that I believe are not getting the attention that they deserve.

6. Read more books from my own collection: I have an enormous collection of books, much of which I have not yet read. I love the library and I will never forsake it. But I do get a bit carried away with my library borrowing. For example, I currently have 34 books checked out of the public library and 30 books checked out of my university library. I have a whole bookcase devoted exclusively to them. No, I don’t manage to read them all before they’re due back. But I try, and as a result my reading priorities are often dictated by which books are due back at the library first. This is ridiculous. So this year I plan to shift the balance, read more of my own books, and thereby reclaim control of my reading schedule.


Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable blog, Kate. Came to your site from another book blog. Looking over your list of resolutions for the coming year, I share your desire to re-read some favorites (Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin, The Trial by Franz Kafka, etc). I'm also looking forward to re-reading Twain after finishing the new Ron Powers bio (which is great, btw). I don't know many Canadian authors, so I'll be looking forward to your posts on that topic. Good luck with your resolutions!

Anonymous said...

Hello Kate - Came here via Patricia's Booklust blog. I can relate to your last reading resolution. That's one I'm attempting to try this year as well. Will be back to visit some more.

Kate S. said...


Thanks for your kind words and for the recommendation of the Twain bio. I'm looking forward to seeing your blog take shape. You'll definitely attract readers writing from the inside of a second-hand bookstore. After all, that's where most of us want to be much of the time! For a fellow second-hand bookseller's blog, check out Necessary Acts of Devotion.



Anonymous said...

I like your resolutions.

I especially like the resolution to read the work alongside the biographies.

I'm not organized enough to do that...

JoanneMarie Faust said...

The resolution about reading the biographies with the works is a great one. I'm always a little worried that if I wound up not liking the author as a person, it might taint my relationship with his or her books.

Kate S. said...


I'm not sure if I'm organized enough either, but I'm going to try! I'm already off to a good start with Anna Kavan, reading her Asylum Piece side-by-side with David Callard's biography of her.


I know what you mean about the potential of information about the life tainting the relationship with the books. I have had that happen to me before. But I get so much out of the biographies that I keep risking it. More often than not, knowing something about an author's creative process and the circumstances under which they wrote enhances my appreciation of the work.

Sharon said...

Kate - I liked that resolution too... People often look at me when I say I borrow from the library... 'Why?' is usually not far behind - my reasoning is I would hate to find I had nothing to read on my shelves - as if that is likely!!!! The fact is that I also work in a book shop and I am continually exposed to brand new books everyday - heaven!!!!! The smell, the feel - enough me thinks!!!!