With World Book Day coming up on April 23, book lover and author Sonnet L’Abbé of UBC’s Okanagan campus tells us why reading is one of life’s most basic pleasures
April 23 is World Book Day, also known as International Day of the Book, a time to encourage everyone, particularly young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and the enduring power of the written word.
Sonnet L’Abbé is the author of two books of poetry and teaches creative writing and poetry in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Here she discusses her love of reading.
Why is reading such a vital part of our well-being?
Stories are how we make sense of the world around us. We use stories to tell each other about sweeping global changes, about local news events, and about the latest technological discoveries. We also use stories to tell each other about our lives and to explain who we are in our personal as well as our public worlds. Reading keeps us familiar with the importance of storytelling; it reminds us that we connect with each other through narratives. I’m partial to great fiction and poetry, of course. To read great literature is to enter another person’s world and share their imaginative world. In some ways, to enter an author’s world through reading their words is one of the most satisfying ways to share the human experience of just being alive.
People love relaxing with a good book but say they don’t have time to read. Can one develop good reading habits?
Yes. Reading is like exercise. Good for you but you’re much less likely to do it if you consider it a chore. Find reading that you take pleasure in. Or use it as a way to procrastinate; then it can really become a habit.
With blogs, news websites, and e-readers, it could be argued that no one needs to pick up a book anymore. Do you foresee a day when the printed page becomes obsolete?
I’ve got an e-reader. The jury is still out on how I feel about reading it compared to paperbound books. I know I buy more books when I can do it at a click. For me books offer a sustained, immersive experience that no other online reading experience can.
You lived in South Korea and have travelled across Canada as CBC’s Artist-in-Motion. Are cultural attitudes towards reading and books a universal experience?
I sometimes feel English speakers in North America can take their books a bit for granted. So much world literature–not to mention assembly instruction–gets translated into English whereas French speakers like myself and speakers of other languages readily experience how difficult it can be to get one’s hands on a particular book in one’s own language. Maybe it has something to do with feeling threatened: when you feel the survival of one’s culture depends on the survival of strong literacy and fluency in one’s language, one is perhaps more apt to look at books as dynamic and vital.
What is your favourite book and why does it resonate with you?
My favourite books recently have been Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and Hanif Kureishi’s Buddha of Suburbia. I talk a lot in my personal life about my experiences as a non-white Canadian but I have resisted writing about them in great depth for what are likely the usual reasons. These writers’ worldviews are deeply informed by their experiences of race but their work creates understanding rather than divisiveness. They are witty and hilarious and sharp. Both books deservedly won international awards when they were first published.