To celebrate the summer of 2017, we are pleased to present an ongoing series of reading recommendations/reminiscences by Goose Lane authors past and present.
Today: Darryl Whetter (A Sharp Tooth in the Fur, The Push & the Pull)
This summer, I’m reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari, and its sequel Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. I’m keen and able to dive into these dense, sweeping accounts of human development during summer because of two key facts of my life: writing and subsiding my writing as a professor.
I’m just finishing writing a climate-change novel largely concerned with Canada’s tar sands. That topic necessarily contemplates species extinction, environmental threats and the nature of evolution (topics I’m deepening from Origins, my debut book of poems). I like to read widely on a subject at the beginning and close of the years of writing that make a submittable manuscript. Now, at the end, it’s so stimulating to see Harari pull together everything from foraging to microbes to bionics while—oh cheer—I write about Canada’s contribution to planet-threatening climate change. Wonderful books.
Aside from two crucial years I spent as a freelance writer (/editor/book reviewer/all ‘round word guy) I have—for better and worse—been in school for nearly forty years. In the decade of my three literary degrees, summer reading was, at least until late in my doctorate, the reading I didn’t get to do during term (reading canonical English literature and the faddish, fake-lefty Victim Lit some prof with plenty of heat and a reliable car assigned on the assumption that a body count equals profundity). In my nearly two decades of subsequent university teaching, summer reading has been reserved for the deep and sustained reading I don’t have time to do properly during the weekly slog of term. Consequently, I tend to read more non-fiction and scholarship in the summer.
I certainly don’t feel that summer reading is or should be ‘lighter’ than other reading, though I have been seasonally-inspired in the last few years to prefer a good door-stopping novel from late November into December as we Canadians watch the sunlight slink away. Reading should always be pleasurable, not just in summer.
Although generally suspect of nostalgia, I do have one regret about summer reading (or, more properly, its demise). Our collective shift into absolutely ubiquitous wireless coverage and cellphone use means that only those wealthy or rural enough to enjoy physical isolation can any longer associate reading on a beach or dock with just the sounds of water, ice cubes and pages turning. Beach- and dock-side reading was a joy in part because the naked, simple, analogue and unconnected technology of the paperback was one tech that worked, superbly, on beach or dock (where phones and speakers didn’t easily reach). Now we’re surrounded by people who insist on including us in their phone or video conversations or playing their flavour of music. Boat out to a remote island in Thailand or Vietnam with a cherished book, and you won’t read three pages before someone is steaming computer-enhanced music over tinny little speakers loud enough to erode your concentration.
Nostalgia is usually sunny, and I’ll always cherish my memories of reading to the sound waves lapping in Ontario, New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.
About Darryl Whetter
Darryl Whetter is a writer, editor, and the inaugural director of the first taught creative writing MA in Singapore and southeast Asia. His debut collection with Goose Lane Editions, A Sharp Tooth in the Fur, received rave reviews from coast to coast and was named to The Globe and Mail‘s Top 100 Books of 2003. His second Goose Lane release, the acclaimed debut novel The Push & the Pull, was published in 2008. More recently, on Earth Day 2012 he released Origins, a book of poems devoted to evolution, energy and extinction as they have been, can be and/or should be viewed at Joggins, Nova Scotia. His newest novel, Keeping Things Whole, is a tale of love, death and pot-smuggling.