One Reader at a Time

Indie presses folding. Mega-presses consolidating.

Indie shops closing. Mega-stores dictating terms to publishers.

It sounds grim if you’re a reader who loves to browse in bookshops and wants a variety of good reading.

But what to do?

I am a single reader.

Here’s what I did: I made lists.

Because that’s what I do to make sense of the world: I use a paper and a pen, and I write things down.

And then I thought about what I love.

Once upon a time, I spent entire afternoons browsing bookstores with a bookish friend, wandering from one shop to the next on a circuit. I loved those afternoons, the bookish company and conversations, and the books that I carried home with me.

And, sure, there were a lot more indie bookshops then, but they’re not gone.

Sometimes the despair gets in the way, and I forget that there are still indie shops to browse in, indie presses to celebrate.



It’s that old story.

But if Timothy Findley could write Against Despair, I can read Against Despair.

Does it matter? I am a single reader.

I can’t fundamentally change the trends in book-selling and publishing, but I can follow my reader’s heart, think about what I read and where I buy it.

The indie press whose name appears most often in my reading log is House of Anansi.

In my list-making, when it comes to quality writing and favourite books, they stand out: 18 books in 21 months of reading.

Here is the list, if you’re curious:

Kathleen Winter’s Annabel; Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers; Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist; Adam Gopnik’s Winter; Edem Awumey’s Dirty Feet (Trans. Lazer Lederhendler);  Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee mysteries One, Two, Three; Karin Altenberg’s Island of Wings; Ai Mi’s Under the Hawthorn Tree (Trans. Anna Holmwood);  Robert Hough’s Dr. Brinkley’s Tower; Carrie Snyder’s The Juliet Stories; Alix Ohlin’s Inside; Pasha Malla’s People Park; Edward P. Riche’s Easy to Like); Adwoa Badoe’s Between Sisters and The Pot of Wisdom; Pamela Porter’s I’ll be Watching (the last three being Groundwood Books).

And when I heard about the launch of their A-list series, I was smitten.

See, their A-list is a curated selection of backlist titles, some of the books that helped to make Canlit Canlit.

So it combines some of my favourite things: books + lists + Canadian writing.

But, even more striking, while I was virtually admiring the set on their website, I realized that they really do maintain a spectacular backlist, only a portion of which is celebrated in this lovely new set.

Oh, the list-making began in earnest then.

First, on a sheet of paper (my favourite kind of list). But, then, the list began filling the margins of that page.

I keyed the list into a document and continued to add to it, furiously clicking on categories like Human Rights, Beautiful Books, LGBT, African Studies, Massey Lectures, Series, Short Story, Strong Female Protagonist (a Girls with Grit series: how did I now know about this?!).

The list became a spreadsheet. I forgot to eat lunch. (Truly.)

Then I started a cart, which I filled with my A-list lovelies and some other irresistible items.

Then I got my library hold-list involved.

The spreadsheet became three spreadsheets and a truly unruly bunch of sticky-notes. Oh, my.

It’s a new reading project. Quite likely you recognize the progression of events. The smitten-ness.

I am a single reader.

What can I do? I can marvel, I can reach, I can read.

One reader, smitten.



  1. […] decided that making a change, even just One Reader at a Time, was still making a change (which made me much […]

  2. Danielle November 27, 2012 at 11:38 pm - Reply

    I’m a serious list maker, too. I always have little pieces of paper falling out of my notebook that I carry with me with books written on them–that I want to buy, that I need to read now, that I’m going to read next year, you know how it goes. The A list books look very cool–I can see why you’d want the whole stack! And thanks for sharing your list of favorites (that’s an impressive number of books from one small press read in a year and a half or so. Your resolve is really inspiring–I need some of it, too. And it’s amazing really what one person can do….or at least start anyway! 🙂

    • Buried In Print November 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm - Reply

      I just realized today that I have so many sheets of paper with booklists on them tucked into my current notebooks that the stack of them is actually thicker than the notebook (and I wonder why the binding is so strained): sigh. Glad to know I’m not alone. Yes, I actually only had one of the A-list titles already (and you can see from the picture how worn and battered my original copy of Margaret Atwood’s Survival is), so it wasn’t hard to justify the whole stack (though I’ve never purchased a whole set before).

      That’s what I thought: it wasn’t until I realized just how substantially they had contributed to my list of quality fiction in the past couple of years that I really sat up and took notice, and then I wanted to take an even closer look at what they had to offer. It wasn’t just about how many of their books I’d read, although that was significant too, but how much I’d enjoyed each of them. Standout! (And it’s my pleasure.)

  3. olduvai November 20, 2012 at 9:44 am - Reply

    Gorgeous post! It is full of awesomeness and awe-inspiring-ness. I feel the need to go and relook my TBR list, too long, too disorganised….!

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2012 at 11:04 am - Reply

      Thanks, Olduvai, but don’t go messing with your TBR shelf on GoodReads. I love that it’s nearly as unwieldy as mine. (Although I suppose there’s something to be said about tinkering with old lists, too.)

  4. Sandra November 17, 2012 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Another reader smitten. I have read 10 of the 18 listed so can use the remaining 8 to start my new list! Sounds both inspirational and exciting with the added bonus of supporting a Canadian indie press : looking forward to following you on this new project. I will go and gather up the Anansi books I have and start a new list!

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2012 at 11:01 am - Reply

      I’m curious what other Anansi books you find on your shelves (and which are the 10 you’ve read): it is exciting to discover that you’ve been following a pathway to good reading for long enough to recognize the pattern, the regular reward of finding something wonderful there, and then to realize that you can mine that territory for other great reads too. I hope your list grows by leaps and bounds!

  5. Starr K November 17, 2012 at 9:25 am - Reply

    I actually woke up this morning, looked at the lists of books written on paper, post-its etc.. and decided to make a list on Excel. Then I decided to add to the list by charting in the books I have for Review but haven’t gotten to. I am excited that I have decided to utilize my library, my wallet thanks me. I have also decided to go back and put books into sections so that they line up with either reviews, my diversity in reading project, science-fiction or classics project. Lists are wonderful and they make the big reading piles and challenges more feasible. There is a lot of smitten-ness going around.

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2012 at 10:55 am - Reply

      It’s funny, isn’t it, how you can lurch and grasp at the bulk of it, in ink-and-paper and sticky-notes, for a good while but, at a certain point, you realize that, where once you were swimming, now you are drowning; I love the feeling you get when you identify interconnections in your reading (and in your reading plans), that sense of being part of something bigger even in a seemingly solitary state, of making sense of it all. Last night, I found a list that I made in September, an earlier draft of a books-for-review list, and was pleased to be able to mentally check off all those books as red and to realize that soon all the lists I’m making now will be lists of books I’ve read (and hopefully enjoyed), too.

  6. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis November 17, 2012 at 9:16 am - Reply

    This post brought tears to me eyes.

    I, too, have a list (in a spreadsheet) that’s grown from numerous ‘projects’ and is now a cornucopia (or, a mish-mash?) of potential reading.

    My one reader added to your one reader added to myriads…

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2012 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Did you, too, keep longhand lists, before finally admitted that the sorting feature was a true blessing that should no longer be denied? I have an entire notebook somewhere of books TBR that I keep thinking back to, wondering if I should find it and add them to the master TBR list, or whether it would be foolish to even peek inside. But surely I’ve read SOME of those since… (And, yes, I’m grateful that I’m not the only obsessed, sometimes-weepy-at-the-state-of-it-all reader.)

  7. Mel u November 17, 2012 at 6:54 am - Reply

    I live in a city of ten million or so with only chain book stores and no public libraries. I have learned to do my browsing on my ipad. I admit I love being able to get 1000s of public domains free almost instantly. I also appreciate being able to download free samples of ebooks and being able to return purchased e books within seven days. I do not feel a lot of sentimentality for physical books. I have some volumes in treasure like the diary of Samuel Pepy’s so I am not without feeling for books. Somehow, and I know this will see blasphemy to many but I fund reading on my ipad a purer experience with reading a book.

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2012 at 10:46 am - Reply

      Mel – I’d be interested to know more about the publishing industry in your region, whether there are independent presses that produce works like these and that’s just not your reader’s-cup-of-tea, or whether they have been obliterated from the literary landscape there. If classic reading comprised a greater proportion of my reading, I think I would be more content with an e-reader, but I read as much contemporary fiction as you read classics, although I know that you’ve started to read more with your Irish stories project (which is probably about the same smattering of classic reads that dots my reading log).

  8. claire November 17, 2012 at 2:04 am - Reply

    And you are doing a great thing. 🙂

    That new series looks awesome! The cover art so beautiful. They remind me of old Penguins. I loved DeNiro’s Game. Planning to read The Outlander soon (wish I had that cover). I need to read more CanLit. You inspire me.

    • Buried In Print November 20, 2012 at 10:41 am - Reply

      Claire – You loved DeNiro’s Game? You just nudged that one several notches up the stack. The Outlander is such a compelling tale: I think you’ll love sinking into it too. Let me know if you’re planning to read soon, and I’ll happily (re)read along with you.

      • claire November 21, 2012 at 10:16 pm - Reply

        DeNiro’s Game is so raw and powerful and dynamic. I didn’t like his Cockroach that much, though his talent’s still evident there. I’m not sure if I’ll be reading his most recent book. Maybe borrowed from the library. But DeNiro’s Game, it’s something else. I’ll certainly be reading The Outlander soon, early next year. I need to do that, and also dying to read The Juliet Stories since reading your review.

        I very much understand Mel U. He’s based in the Philippines right now with a sad literary state. He’s right about that, too, only chain bookstores and no public libraries. I remember there were a few indie book stores then but I remember one so easily closed shop soon after opening (it was a store that sold only Philippine lit). The other indie book stores I had only read about in the papers because it was in the Big City (I lived in a smaller town). Don’t know where they are now. A number of Philippine lit are in English but I find that the best ones are those written in Filipino and I’m not sure if those are being translated. I actually haven’t read any in years and lacking sorely, but seeking them out next year again, same as with CanLit.

        • Buried In Print November 22, 2012 at 3:17 pm - Reply

          Thanks for adding to Mel’s observations in his comment below: it’s reassuring to know that some people are still trying there to promote indigenous literary culture so that it’s not all about Dickens and Tolstoy, even if their efforts are not as successful as one might hope (such an understatement in this case, as it sounds like that shop would have been a vitally important centre under the circumstances). That will make a great literary project for you for next year for sure: I’m looking forward to hearing about it.

          I really enjoyed Hage’s Carnival (another part of the impetus for this project, actually, because his voice is so strong and fresh and Anansi has published all three of his novels) so I’m really keen to read the other two. Maybe I’ll start with Cockroach, so that if my response is similar to yours, I can still look forward to D’sG

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