BOOK PERSON | Vol. 28
Kevin Read is very into Deborah Levy— also Rachel Cusk, George Saunders, Patrick deWitt, and a gripping western thriller.
Every other Thursday evening, there is an outdoor roller disco at Sunset Beach. I’ve only made it to the last two, but gliding around a repurposed parking lot in my pastel skates as a DJ blasts Blondie and Spice Girls has fortified me for the coming winter like a Vitamin D infusion. Summer is ending but September is always a gentle let-down. Last weekend I cleaned the tub in preparation for my favourite Q4 activity: soaking in the bath for three hours every night with a book. I’m ready for the seasonal transition, baby. It’s fucking fall.
This week I’m alternating between Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier and The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy, a dark satire about the crisis of toxic masculinity and influencer culture. I’m eagerly anticipating the new Rooney, even if the reviews are tepid, and god help me, I dig the bucket hat.
This week’s BOOK PERSON is Kevin Read: biomedical librarian, cat dad, softball player, Saskatonian, infrequent Twitter user, guy with excellent taste in women. I am startled and impressed by the fact that he’s never re-read a book, which is especially impressive especially when you read his excellent recent selections:
Where are you from, and where do you live now?
I was born in Ontario, but left after high school and moved to BC. I most recently spent seven years in NYC, and now live in Saskatoon.
Describe your literary tastes:
A real mixed bag. I will read almost any type of fiction if it gets recommended to me, if I find it interesting, or if it sounds like something I've never read before. I tend to gravitate towards books that describe the goings on of daily life in detail.
What is your favourite bookstore in the whole wide world?
Three way tie between Russell Books in Victoria, Politics and Prose in D.C. (for their books and their pear pastries downstairs), and Typewronger Books in Edinburgh.
How do you choose your books?
I read various lists online to see what's new (New York Magazine, NPR, and Wired for science fiction are common places I tend to visit frequently), I readily accept recommendations from friends, and I will seek out new books from authors I like.
I also used to love using the Brooklyn Public Library's service that allowed you to submit a set of parameters and a librarian would pick books for you based on your tastes. I read some great and unexpected books that way. Case in point: Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue, which is a book about a tennis match in the 16th century between Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, played with a ball made from Anne Boleyn's hair.
Do you keep track of what you read?
I do. I use a notebook to record every book I read, and then I usually add a few lines about it to help me remember what I read. I'll also take pictures of writing I like with my phone.
What are the last five books you read?
I went on a bit of a Deborah Levy binge, so forgive the lack of variety:
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
Cost of Living by Deborah Levy
Things I Don't Want to Know by Deborah Levy
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
Survive the Night by Riley Sager.
What book is next to your bed right now?
A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan. It is hilarious and bonkers and I love it.
What draws you in while reading?
I find that a book draws me in when I feel like I might be a supporting character in the story. I don't need to feel like the main protagonist, but if I can see myself in the story then I want to keep reading it. I'm drawn to lots of description — anything that helps me visualize the world that I'm in will hook me.
What's the best book you read last year?
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders. It's a book based on his Russian short story writing class at Syracuse University. The book is structured in a way where Saunders shares his favourite Russian short stories and then breaks down each one and describes why they are amazing pieces of writing. I did not expect to like the book because I thought it would be too theoretical, but a) you get to read some of the best Russian short story fiction there is, and b) he writes so passionately about each short story that it made me love and appreciate each one more than when I read it the first time.
Did you ever read a book for school, or out of a sense of duty to the classic canon, and find it was unexpectedly good? If so, which one?
I actually really enjoyed Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. Although really messed up, I found the way that relationships and personal bonds were portrayed to be very captivating.
Were you a big reader as a child? What was your favourite book?
I definitely was. Do all the Goosebumps count?
Do you read poetry? If so, do you have a favourite or poem?
I do. I read Leonard Cohen's poem "A Life of Errands" often.
Are there any "classic" books you genuinely love?
Neuromancer by William Gibson. I feel like I could read it today and it would still be relevant and hold my attention.
What's your favourite book that no one else you know has ever read?
This one is hard, but I really love the book Rough Animals by Rae Delbianco, which may or may not have flown under peoples radars. It's a western thriller that is extremely gripping, brutal, and Odyssey-esque. I could not stop reading it, and it was one of the only books that I had to sit with after I was done before moving onto something new.
Which book do you give most often as a gift?
French Exit by Patrick DeWitt. I love this book so much.
What book are you most excited to read next?
Rachel Cusk's new book Second Place. I've really enjoyed everything she's written so far. It's unlike anything I've read before.
What's the best book-to-movie adaptation, in your opinion?
Hands down The Age of Innocence!
Is there a book you've been meaning to read, but just haven't gotten around to it yet?
I swear one day I will read (and complete) Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I have failed once so far.
What's the last book you devoured as fast as you could read it?
Real Estate by Deborah Levy. This book made me buy the trilogy, which is why two of my last five books read are by Levy.
What's a book that took you a long time to read, but was ultimately worth it?
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson. This book was massive but so worth it. It describes a future world (and the people within it) where NYC is flooded and most people live at the top of high rise buildings that are still above water level.
Has a book ever fundamentally changed your opinion about something? If so, which one?
Maybe not changed my opinions but definitely opened my eyes wider to a new perspective: Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong.
Is there a place you dream of visiting, now that you've read about it? If so, where?
I'm going to cheat once and return to Real Estate by Deborah Levy. She describes this Greek cafe on the Aegean sea where they serve her cold yogurt with carrot jam after dinner on a very hot evening. I would like to be transported to that place in that moment.
What's a book that helped you believe in the fundamental decency of humanity?
If believing in the decency of humanity through anthropomorphized rainbow bamboo counts, then Semiosis by Sue Burke.
Free-for-all: tell me about a book you love that didn't make it into your answers above.
I really love Drifts by Kate Zambreno and would highly recommend it.
Speed round: What book pairs best with…
… celebrating your COVID vaccine? Physiology of Taste by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin to get you excited about the joys of food again.
… a summer afternoon at the beach? Kudos by Rachel Cusk
… a long weekend with no plans? Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
… a snow day? The Hare by Melanie Finn.
Tell me honestly. Would you wear the Sally Rooney bucket hat?