The Sunday Magazine

What Lorna Crozier and Randy Boyagoda are reading during this time of isolation

Dispatches from two of Canada’s top novelists on the comforts of reading during a pandemic, what books they're turning to in this unsettling moment and why.

'It entertains us, it informs us and, at its most profound, I believe it heals us,' says Crozier

B.C. poet Lorna Crozier on the left. Writer and University of Toronto professor Randy Boyagoda on the right. (University of Victoria/Ethan Horst Mitchell)

When we feel cast adrift, books can be an anchor — or a life raft.

Since the lockdown began, The Sunday Edition has been asking lovers of literature what books they're turning to in this unsettling moment, and why.

B.C. poet Lorna Crozier said that since her husband — poet Patrick Lane — died in 2019, she's found it challenging to concentrate on serious literature.

"I seem to be attracted to escape novels where large, strong men beat up villains. But in this time of even more isolation, I decided I needed to go to something that's comforting in a more profound way," she said.

Shortly after the lockdown began, she turned to Summer of the Horse by B.C. poet Donna Kane. It's about Kane's experience leaving a 25-year marriage and falling in love with a wilderness explorer and conservationist, and about caring for a wounded horse.

"She has to hose down the wound of this horse twice a day. The wound for me becomes a metaphor, and her courage as well becomes a role model. In spite of her fear of horses, she has to get out of bed every day and face this wound and make the horse well," Crozier said.

"In reading Donna's words, I am dealing with my own wounds around grief, and around the grief that is hitting the whole world at the moment. Literature can do that. 'It entertains us, it informs us and, at its most profound, I believe it heals us."

Randy Boyagoda, a writer and professor at the University of Toronto, said his reading life has been pulled in two different directions since the pandemic began.

On the one hand, he's been reading books like The Plague by Albert Camus and The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, to make sense of what it means to live through periods of disease and quarantine.

On the other, he has been trying to return to "regularly scheduled reading," like re-reading George Eliot's Middlemarch or beginning new novels like Aravind Adiga's Amnesty and Daniel Kehlmann's Tyll. "At least that's one place in our lives that we can keep going," he said.

He's also been reading The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a centuries-old guide to spiritual living. Boyagoda often carries it around with him, but realized recently that in the midst of "especially intense COVID living," he hadn't read it for a few days. 

"I realized, here was a chance to sit and dwell, to not check my e-mail, to not be reading the latest epidemiology reports, but rather to read two or three lines and just stay with those, think through those, explore your inner life, the life of God."

He said there's something consoling about knowing you're reading the same words as someone else, whether that's through a spiritual practice, a virtual book club, or the simple act of reading the newspaper.

"What's that thing we always get from reading?" he said. "One deep and abiding consolation: you are not alone."


Summer of the Horse by Donna Kane

  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
  • Amnesty by Aravind Adiga
  • Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann 
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview. 

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