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Robert Sirman, director of the Canada Council for the Arts, reads in his favourite place at his home in Ottawa. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Robert Sirman, director of the Canada Council for the Arts, reads in his favourite place at his home in Ottawa. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

My Books, My Place

Robert Sirman keeps it analog Add to ...

Despite living in a digital age, I am Gutenberg through and through.

As a child, reading was an important part of my identity, especially in distinguishing myself from my parents, who were not readers. I can only recall three books in the family home: a Bible hidden away in a drawer and two novels, Gone with the Wind and Of Mice and Men, stored on a magazine rack. Their presence seemed more an accident of time than an expression of taste.

Previous instalments of My Books, My Place

My father hammered together my first bookcase, a board-and-nails affair that served through university and beyond. After graduation, one of my first investments was three free-standing bookcases commissioned from an unemployed cabinetmaker. Each had a hand-carved Celtic frieze, and the bases were designed to store – wait for it – long-playing records.

For many years, my favourite reading place was my bed, pillows piled high and bed sheets obscured with titles. In no time, I was expert at judging a book not by its cover but by how it would feel resting on my stomach.

Later, I graduated to a more traditional reading posture, seated comfortably erect in an armchair with good lighting and a small table at hand. When I moved to Ottawa in 2006 to take up my current job, I lucked into a terrific apartment with an expanse of northern light. I also lucked into a seemingly bottomless pool of great Canadian books short-listed each year for the 14 Governor-General’s Literary Awards administered and funded by the Council.

The GGLA winners will be announced on Nov. 15 and I am doing my best to dip into as many of the short-listed books as possible – especially the English fiction finalists such as David Bezmozgis’s The Free World and Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, and non-fiction finalists such as J.J. Lee’s The Measure of a Man: The Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit and Charles Foran’s Mordecai: The Life & Times.

My favourite chair serves both for reading and for listening to music, although not at the same time. As much as I relish the multisensory pleasures of cinema and the performing arts, when it comes to books, my Gutenberg brain will tolerate no distractions.

Robert Sirman is director and chief executive officer of the Canada Council for the Arts.

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