Reader Profile: Austen Lee

For every day of our Indiegogo campaign, we’ll be sharing profiles from readers and supporters of Glass Bookshop both local to the city and from across Canada. Visit our campaign page now to claim cool perks and support us in building a beautiful brick-and-mortar space in downtown Edmonton. And read on to discover why today’s featured reader is excited to one day visit Glass Bookshop!

Austen Lee is a star of both the literary and floral worlds! She grew up in rural northern Alberta and now lives in Edmonton, where she is a writer, flower shop employee, and MA student at the University of Alberta. She is the winner of several literary awards, including the AMPA gold award for poetry and the James H. Gray Award for Short Nonfiction. In 2018, she was shortlisted for the Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize. Her work has been published in Avenue Edmonton, Glass Buffalo, PRISM international, and Poetry Is Dead. Read on to hear what books and stories she cherishes, and why she’s excited to visit our bookshop!

How did books and the act of reading come to be meaningful to you?
My mother and grandmother made a point to read aloud to me as a child; I cherish those memories and the love of books that grew out of that experience. My mom was my biggest reading role model, and always had something to read next to her bed, whether it was a prize-winning novel or the most recent copy of People. As I grew older and started to discover an interest in creative writing, I became fascinated by my school library; that space fuelled my curiosity about where books came from and the processes by which they were created.

What is your relationship now to books and reading?
I now approach reading in many different ways. It is a point of connection, a springboard for conversation, shared excitement or dismay. I enjoy getting together with friends and discussing our latest read! As a graduate student, I’ve learned to engage critically with books, but I also try to practice disengaging from critical reading practice. I first loved books as a source of escape and wonderment, and as beautiful objects. I know that as long as I hope to write, I will always remain an avid reader. Books and language inspire me—that much remains constant.

Is there a book that has had significant impact on you?
I recently read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I was blown away by the careful restraint of Ishiguro’s language. The book tackles an ambitious topic and takes place in a dark future where deadly diseases are eradicated—at great human cost. For me, what’s most striking about the book is the quiet intimacies developed between its characters. Ishiguro captures the nuance of childhood friendships as they are exposed to the pressures of adulthood in a harsh world. Yet the novel maintains an understated tone which lends softness—and even a complicated beauty—to its devastating subject.

How does literature influence your sense of community?
While the act of reading is often silent and solitary, it always remains about community. Our relationships with a character, an author, and those around us who share an appreciation for literature are perhaps the greatest gifts that reading can offer.

How do you find new books or writers?
Instagram is a great resource for exploring new texts. I follow all kinds of accounts devoted to books and reading, from Penguin to small Canadian presses and literary journals. My friends often share what they’re reading on social media. Taking their recommendations means that we can read together!

Can you share a memorable experience you’ve had in a bookstore? What makes it stand out for you?
Once I was flipping through a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky in an Indigo. A hand-written note slipped out from the pages. It simply said, “Have a great day!” It felt like a special moment, an anonymous connection made through a book. Bookstores make that kind of intimacy between strangers possible.

What do you think Glass Bookshop could offer Edmonton’s community of readers and writers?
Glass Bookshop will offer a space for Edmonton’s reading and writing community to gather and celebrate Canadian literature, and each other. Glass Bookshop’s mandate to pay special attention to LGBTQ2SIA and BIPOC writers, as well as small, independent publishers, is so needed in our city. The shop will be a wonderful addition to Edmonton’s arts community, and I can’t wait to attend many events there!

Want to help make this reader’s dream for Glass Bookshop a reality? Support Glass Bookshop’s Indiegogo campaign by buying some cool perks today here:

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Matthew Stepanic