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Where Yann Martel and four other Canadian authors curl up to read

Book nooks

Five Canadian authors tell Alex Laws where they curl up for a good read when they're off the clock

A library in Hart House is seen in this 2012 file photo.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Camilla Gibb has published five novels including This is Happy, a memoir that was recently shortlisted for the 2016 RBC Taylor Prize. Her winning reading nook is at Toronto's Hart House Upper Library. "On a crisp winter day during term time, if you get there early enough, you can secure a big leather armchair near the window," she says, of the large deep-red seating brought in during a renovation in 2014 (Hart House was established in 1919). "The old radiators belt out too much heat, so if you open the window, you get this perfect balance of temperature. You can hear the hiss of the radiators and the gentle snoring of others, all of you nestled in this quiet cocoon."


Troy Wruck

Yann Martel, who recently published The High Mountains of Portugal, his sixth title, says the best spot for reading is in the sunny, south-facing bedroom of his 12-year-old Saskatchewan home. It's cozy thanks to a high-density foam mattress and pillow, flannel sheets and an electric blanket, but for Martel, the people make the place. "I love reading there because of my current bedmate, my fourth child, Jasper, who is nearly 10 months old," he says. "Right now I'm reading Homer's Iliad, and while I'm attentive [to it], I'm also keenly aware of the more subdued epic that is my baby boy sleeping." Child-related gifts decorate the bed: a stuffed monkey from Gibraltar and cushion from England. Across the room, a bookshelf holds a neglected ficus plant and "random books," says Martel, "a source of endless surprises."


A busker plays the Lionel Groulx metro (subway) station in Montreal in this 2008 file photo.

A busker plays the Lionel Groulx metro (subway) station in Montreal in this 2008 file photo.

IAN BARRETT/for The Globe and Mail

Heather O'Neill has published four novels (her fifth, The Romeo Hotel is due out this summer) and whizzing around beneath her native Montreal is where she devours the words of other authors. "I've spent my whole life reading on the Montreal Metro," she says. "I sink into the scooped-out plastic seats, squished in with all the strangers in their fabulous Montreal styles and pull out a book." The decor isn't the main draw, but the orange and red circular tiles of Lionel-Groulx or the bright yellow bricks of St. Henri always remind O'Neill which stop she's at, without taking her eyes off the page. "Underground, where all my ideas are like seeds ready to bloom into something wonderful when I step out," she says.

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Nino Ricci has penned eight works of fiction and non-fiction, his most recent of which, Sleep, launched last fall and is still gaining traction. For him, a corner of Astley Castle in Warwickshire, England, is the best place to sequester away (and nod off) with a book. "I like the fact it was once the home of Lady Jane Grey and looks out onto a 13th-century church and castle," says Toronto-based Ricci, whose preferred spot lies on the second floor, with refurbished wooden floors, windows with great views in every direction and comfortable seating to take it all in. "There's big sectional couch, those Bauhaus-like square armchairs and a wood-burning stove for those cooler English nights, which happen at any time of the year."


Robert J. Sawyer recently published his 23rd science-fiction novel Quantum Night, but his favourite reading spot is down to earth: lying on the couch in his Mississauga penthouse apartment. On the wall opposite the velour sofa (chosen because the original Star Trek movies were made of the tactile fabric) is a three-feet-long model of the Starship Enterprise and an oil painting of one of his book covers, by American fantasy artist Tom Kidd. Solid pine wood cabinets (vintage Ikea) and a fireplace are also within view. "I was very conscious how I laid out the apartment – the primitive open fire and the futuristic. Given what I read and write I think it suits me well," says Sawyer.

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