There’s a price to be paid for being an avid reader, and former Slave Lake town councillor Diane Smith is clearly willing to pay it.
“My friends think I’m a nerd,” she says. “I don’t think any of them are avid readers.”
Smith – who works in the field of community engagement – didn’t start early as an avid reader. Her mom Marilyn read a lot to her when she was little, but at some point, “it fell off,” she says, and she didn’t read much in her teenage years. Then, in her second year of university something clicked over and she’s been at it hard ever since.
“I read ‘The Awakening,’ by Kate Chopin,” she says. “It had an emotional impact.”
The book is described as an early example of American feminist fiction. The protagonist, rather than endure the suffocating constraints society places on her as a women, ends her life by walking into the ocean.
“I was taking a lot of women’s history courses,” Smith says. “It set me on a trend.”
Reading “mostly fiction,” Smith continues to seek out, find and read books featuring “complex female protagonists,” struggling with society’s expectations of them. That theme of course gets plenty of treatment non-fictionally, and Smith reads that as well.
“‘Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud,’ by Helen Petersen,” she says, by way of example. “It’s a series of essays on women who have achieved success.”
Then there’s ‘Bad Feminist,’ by Roxane Gay, another series of essays examining women’s role (or roles) in society.
Not all of this stuff, by the way, necessarily lines up with what Smith thinks or believes. In fact she provides ‘Bad Feminist’ as an example of a book she read to see things from a different perspective.
“It challenges you,” she says.
Reading as an intellectual challenge is one thing. Another is reading simply as an escape.
“I could read for an entire weekend,” Smith says.
Asked what she might read purely for pleasure, Smith mentions a book with a rather long title: ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,’ by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows.
“It’s a happy book,” she says.
Another work of not-necessarily-feminist fiction that made a big impression on Smith was John Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden.’ She describes it as “sweeping” and “complex,” and as leaving her with “a book hangover. It stays with you and you want to read more about it.”
Where does she find books? In the case of the Schaffer and Barrows one, a friend of her parents (now passed on) recommended it. Other ideas come from a book group on Instagram Smith belongs to (called ‘Bookstagram’). She says it has broadened her awareness of various authors and possibilities and helped motivate her to read the books she already owns (but hasn’t read), rather than always looking to buy more. However, she does that too.
“I do not borrow books,” Smith says. “I’m like my dad (John Dawson, featured in an earlier Avid Readers article) in that way. I spend a ridiculous amount of money on books, but I think it’s money well spent.”
Smith’s son Zander, on the other hand – an avid reader himself at nine years old – does borrow lots of books from the library. He’s into history and can reel off the names of historical personages he’s encountered in the pages of the ‘Who Was?’ series of biographies for children.
No electronic reading material for Smith. She’s one of those who likes the feel and smell of a book. She also likes to have them around, which they are, in increasing numbers.
“Once I read a book I don’t want to give it away,” she says. “I just love them. There are stacks, shelves, piles – everywhere.”
Not at random, mind you. She says they are organized alphabetically, by title.