Joseph Boyden’s books reside on a towering wall of shelves in the library of the New Orleans home he shares with his wife, Amanda Boyden (author of Babylon Rolling and Pretty Little Dirty). Last fall Hazlitt dropped by their house—formerly a 19th century corner grocery store—shortly after Joseph’s latest novel, The Orenda, was named to the Giller Prize longlist. Yesterday The Orenda was named the winner of this year’s Canada Reads.
I watched The X-Files growing up, and my boyfriend had never seen them, so we’re watching them now. It’s funny, some of the episodes I remember being in love with, when I watch them now they’re not that good. But … David Duchovny is so attractive that I really don’t care. It’s always the same thing, regardless of what happens, Scully’s always the skeptic. It doesn’t matter what happens to her or what she sees. It’s kind of a ridiculous show, actually. But some of the things they show … they clearly did a lot of research, I can tell. With certain plotlines they know what they’re doing; I’ve read about or have books about some of the same stuff, and I’m like, Okay, that’s true, people do believe that. They put some effort into it, but it’s so flawed at the same time.
A lot of my books are still in Vancouver. When I went to McGill I moved a lot of my books with me, and I had the painful experience of moving back west with them. So I decided I wouldn’t do that again until I found my forever home. So other than say, 10 books, these are all books I’ve gotten in the last year and a half. I’ve read, I think, 90 percent. So this is actually a really good, condensed look at my reading life over the last year and a bit. Some Julian Barnes, some comedy.
I live with my parents, but I do love this space. It’s difficult to reconcile loving this exact room and not wanting to be with my family all the time. But the worst part about it is that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee, and that means going outside to get to the bathroom in the main house. I have to put on a jacket! I’m looking forward to being in a space where I can just walk to the bathroom from my bedroom and back without putting my outdoor clothes on.
This was my grandma’s house. The last of the old people, like the 70 year olds next door, Gino remembers me when I was a little boy. They’re hanging on. My wife was telling me how when we first moved in here, the neighbours weren’t really sure what I do. Because I don’t “go to work.” I think some of the neighbours thought I was on disability or something, and then Gino saw me on TV. He was like, “Oh, okay!” And then his son, who is kind of urbane, explained my work to him. Later, we were having a problem in the front garden, digging up some roots. Gino—he’s a strong old Italian guy—comes over with a pickaxe, and he’s digging the roots out, hacking at them with this pickaxe. And he’s sweating through his undershirt. And he says to me, he says “When you write a book, you kill me. When I do this, I kill you.” We’re killing each other. It’s hilarious.
I don’t organize my books at all and I can’t find anything. Here’s the thing, I have too many books. I know I have too many books. The problem is I have a lot of books that I think are really beautiful. There’s lots of books I’ve read, like Cormac McCarthy books —that I love— that I could give away. The editions aren’t that great, they don’t look that cool. But so many of these books are so beautiful. Like, A Pictorial History of Magic and the Supernatural from the ‘70s. I can’t give that away! They’re like reference books.
I have three categories for books. The first is monographs, things organized alphabetically by artist. A to Z by artist in here. I’ve lived in different places, and when I moved to Toronto, the dilemma was, do I leave my books out so that I can see them and interact with them, or do I put them away so that I can protect them a little bit? I’ve ruined the spines of books, living in a house that had a lot of light in it.
I have my bookshelves kind of hidden away. It’s just the way it worked out in this space. I’ve moved from a big house in Connecticut, which had walls and walls of built-in bookshelves. Here, there’s no obvious extra space. So I ended up taking this room, which used to be a walk-in closet, and making it into my little office. I may be short on space for clothes, but at least I’m able to get a little bit of book space in here.
Basically, see this pull-out over here? That’s my bookshelf. This is our home away from—you know what I mean? It’s all we have. Most guys use it for storing other stuff, odds and ends, or extra gauze, or whatever.
These on the bottom shelf are the ones that I’ve read or am reading, and these up here are the ones that are gifts that I’m getting to. I’ve got to have ‘em separated. Every year I try to re-read a classic. This year it’s Anna Karenina. I read it first in college, so I’m getting reacquainted with it. I saw the movie recently—did you see the movie when it came out? You’ll love the book. It’s a love story. But anyway.
As you likely already know, comments made by author David Gilmour in our latest installment of Shelf Esteem triggered a swift and overwhelmingly appalled reaction across social media this week. The result so far: we can’t recall the last time a Canadian author, or the topic of reading lists and the underrepresentation of women writers in the canon, has elicited so much international media attention and online discussion. Below we’ve compiled a shortlist of the most notable responses we’ve seen.
This morning’s edition of our Shelf Esteem column by Emily M. Keeler featured an ‘as-told-to’ style interview with David Gilmour, the award-winning Canadian novelist who also teaches literature at the University of Toronto. In the article Gilmour shares his opinions on women writers (“I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys.”), and his lack of enthusiasm for Canadian literature. It didn’t take long before a tempest came thundering over Twitter. And within a few hours his comments were reported elsewhere in the media (here, here, and here, for example).
Gilmour has since suggested that his remarks were taken out of context in an interview with Mark Medley of the National Post. And that he was joking. It bears pointing out that the ‘as-told-to’ style in which we publish our Shelf Esteem column is a common journalistic format, foregrounding the subject in a loose, conversational manner intended to feel more direct and intimate. We omit the interviewer and edit the transcripts for length, clarity and flow, always mindful of context. In the case of the Gilmour interview we did not leave out anything he said that would have qualified or elaborated on the comments that have proved controversial.
Given Gilmour’s claim that his comments were taken out of context we are publishing the complete, unedited transcript of his conversation with Keeler, small talk and all. Readers can judge for themselves.
I can’t really give you the tour. I’ve just moved, so my library at home is unfortunately in storage. A thousand, maybe twelve hundred books are in storage. The books here, this tends to be what I teach. These are, of course, the treasured Proust, one of my great joys is not only having read Proust but having read him twice, and having listened to the audio CD twice. There’s two versions, one’s 50 hours and one’s 150 hours. They’re both dazzling. I like volume 4, Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s the most entertaining, it’s the funniest. It’s very, very funny about human vanity, particularly gay vanity.
My dream study would be airy and light, this is a bit more gentleman’s smoking club. But it works. We arrived in July. The books are in no order at all. We did a major cull when we moved. We reduced our library by about two-thirds. It’s actually been really liberating. Heart-wrenching, but it’s nice that I can actually see all of them.
I cannot tell a lie: A woman told me I had to buy The Fountainhead, so I did it. You’ll notice though, it’s pristine. I’ve read The Fountainhead about five times, but I read it all before I got to high school. When I was a kid, there were two books in my house, The Fountainhead and Brother Dusty-feet, so I read them both about six times, but I never finished The Fountainhead because the last page was missing. So I never knew how it ended. Finally, when I got to high school, they had a copy of it in the library, and I read the last page five times, so I was done.
When we moved in I didn’t take much time off work, so we were living in boxes for a bit and Allie wanted to get the books unpacked. She hates arranging them the way we had them in our last place, which was more library style—here’s post-colonial literature, here’s Canadian, here’s the business section. She didn’t want anything to do with that, but she wanted to unpack the books, so she asked if she could do it by colour and I said yes, because I knew I could find everything by colour still, having been a bookseller for however many years.
We used to shoot a TV show at my old house that was basically just a fucking Wayne’s World rip-off, one of the first shows I ever did for AUX. That was when we were in a smaller place, and we had all of our books and CDs and records all in the same spot. They’re split up now, because there isn’t a good spot to have them all together, but it was just such a great thing.
I loved reading Mark Medley’s Shelf Esteem, where he said he and his wife hadn’t combined their collections. I thought that was really funny, because I remember what a big deal it was for us. I was like, Oh my god. This would be a hard thing to disconnect from itself. Once these are combined, that’s more commitment than I can fucking imagine.
So this is sort of my main bookshelf. I’m really into reading novels but I’m a dad now, so I don’t really have time to delve into novels properly. But I do a lot of illustration stuff so I love graphic novels. I have since I was a kid. What I just finished reading recently was this book called Before the Incal. This is my favorite graphic novel of all time, The Incal. He’s my favourite illustrator, Moebius—Jean Giraud, that’s his real name. He’s a French illustrator; he used to do a lot of work for Heavy Metal magazine. Mostly I’m interested in his cityscapes and how much work he puts into them.
There are books everywhere, but I don’t keep a ton of books. If it’s something I’m going to keep, I have to love it a lot. Plus I buy a lot on digital. It’s kind of insane, actually: Peter can order me anything I want from his two bookstores, I get tons of books sent to me at work, I can ask for pretty much any book I want at work and it’ll get sent to me, plus I use the public library to the tune of three or four book-holds a week. And I still buy books in store. It’s kind of bad.
My most contemporary shelf is my desk, with books I’m working through for my current project. I would say it’s 99% avant-garde poetry. If that word even works. For me, avant-garde means people emerging at moments in time doing interesting stuff. I don’t think it’s something that happens and then stops. That’s not my idea of history. Some people call it avant, some people call it cutting edge. I don’t know, I hate most of those terms. I mean, basically it’s stuff that just doesn’t sell in the mainstream that is also interesting politically and formally. The politics are very important.
These are my bookshelves, and over there are my wife’s bookshelves. We live together, we share a cat, but we don’t share bookshelves. That’s the last remaining frontier of our relationship. Although some of her books have made their way over to my shelves. I kind of steal books from her. She’s the one person I know who reads more than I do. I can’t think of anything I’ve stolen, lately. Actually, is this bad? Do you know what I do? Because I have a bit more than she does, if I have a book I think she’ll like and that I want to keep, I’ll hide it on her shelf because it saves me some room.