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my books, my place

Poet and educator Mary Dalton reads in her office at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

I know my place. It's among books. That's the sort of worm I am.

Zadie Smith and Michael Ondaatje (among others) said it exactly when they remarked that, if forced to choose between reading and writing, they would forego the writing. For me, too, reading is the vital act. And if this desert-island game were to go further, if the choice were between books and furniture, or books and a fine wardrobe, it's the books that would stay.

Woe to slick designers who counsel ridding rooms of books. They haven't noticed that "A room without books is a room without a soul." My own books live in three places. My winter house has books in every room, not just the study. In my summer place, a wooden bookcase filled with books on the sea nestles up against a curvy old sofa known as The Reading Boat.

And in my office the books surround me, the room rich with their presence, their possibility – Canadian poetry sidling up to Irish poetry, Victorian and modernist literature nudging up against the spunky Newfoundland books. They hum among themselves.

These days I'm ensconced in the staidly cozy 1950s chair that squats in my office, revisiting works by authors reading at the SPARKS festival in late January. SPARKS is an intense confab, a word spree in darkest winter; I like to have the featured books fresh in my mind as the sparks and cuffers fly.

Mary Dalton is a poet and professor of English at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. She founded the SPARKS Literary Festival, which she currently directs, in 2009