Indie presses folding. Mega-presses consolidating.
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.