Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Re-reading

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I had lunch with my friend Jaspreet yesterday. He asked me what I've been reading lately. My reply was exhaustive, frantic, probably meant to impress him -- or at least not to humiliate myself.

When I asked him the same question he laughed shyly. Jaspreet's been on the road for a while, bouncing from one residency to the next. "I've just been carrying the same two books around," he said, "W.G. Sebald's Austerlitz and Rings of Saturn, and re-reading them."

I admire this, so much. There's a confidence to re-reading, and a real veneration for two of his favourite books. Part of me always feels like re-reading a book is wasted time -- why go back to read something again when I could read something new? Especially when there are so many thousands of great books out there I haven't read yet...

My reading, often fuelled by feelings of inadequacy, can get hysterical. The world of literature looms endlessly, it seems, and I haven't yet got through customs at its airport. So while I'm reading a book -- even a book I love -- my mind tends to race ahead to what I might read next.

What else to call this but consumer anxiety? For me, reading can excite the same emotions of all those clever marketing strategies, for everything from cosmetics to cars, which point to our inadequacies and offer a product that will bring us closer to some imagined ideal.

In my case that ideal is a perfect reader, one who has read everything worth reading. Each classic on my shelf that I have yet to crack reminds me that I'm not even close to this ideal: how dare I write a novel without having ever read The Aeneid! And so I get caught in a trap of buying more books to fill in the gaps, which only accumulate in my apartment, and sink me further into a spiral of self-flagellation.

I'm being melodramatic, of course. (And I'm actually re-reading Anna Karenina right now.) But I do envy Jaspreet for his dedication to two books he loves, and that he's no doubt finding something new each time he re-reads them. Meanwhile I stare down this intimidating stack beside my desk and feel like the race is on -- gotta get to the end before I'm a dead failure and fraud who never read Virgil.

And, sorry, Jaspreet, but I haven't read Austerlitz yet, either.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Pasha Malla

Pasha Malla’s first collection of short stories, The Withdrawal Method, a Globe and Mail and National Post book of the year, won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award and the Trillum Book Award and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the Giller Prize. His latest book, People Park, is forthcoming from Anansi in July 2012.

Go to Pasha Malla’s Author Page