Reader Profile: Ellen Keith

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!

Winner of the HarperCollins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction, Ellen Keith is a Canadian writer and a recent graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA program in creative writing. Originally from St. Albert, Alberta, in 2012, she traded in her office cubicle for a camera and a backpack and set off alone on a 10-month trip across Europe and South America, which set the stage for a long-term move. She currently lives in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New Quarterly and The Globe and MailHer debut novel, The Dutch Wife (Patrick Crean Editions) became an instant Canadian bestseller following its publication in April 2018, reaching #1 for Canadian fiction on The Globe and Mail’s bestsellers list. The Dutch Wife has since been published internationally in the United States (Park Row Books), the Netherlands (Uitgeverij Prometheus) and the Czech Republic (Pavel Dobrovský – Beta), and is forthcoming in Serbia (Vulkan izdavaštvo) and Italy (Newton Compton). Read on to discover what she gets from the act of reading and why she believes Edmonton needs Glass Bookshop.

How did books and the act of reading come to be meaningful to you?
I’ve always been a big bookworm. I vividly remember some of the first books I learned to read (my mom’s old Dick and Jane series from the 1960s) and I can’t tell you how many late nights I spent secretly reading by flashlight under my bedsheets throughout elementary school. Nancy Drew, The Hobbit, Shakespeare—that thrill you get from slipping through a portal into an unfamiliar time and place. And, of course, it didn’t take long before my need to read about other worlds morphed into a desire to try create other worlds myself…

What is your relationship now to books and reading?
Depending on the day, books can serve as a welcome distraction, a refuge, a stimulant, or anything in between. Much as I love a good Netflix series, there’s nothing as immersive as reading, and I often learn something or acquire a new understanding that can leave me deep in thought for days after finishing a book. Because I read a lot of nonfiction for work, I gravitate toward fiction and poetry in my free time. I love that feeling of stumbling across a beautiful phrase or image that makes you pause on the page and reread the sentence so you can mull over the words.

Is there a book that has had significant impact on you?
Some of my favourite books are ones that really turn the world we know on its head, forcing us to question our morals and what we believe to be true about humanity. Two books that stick out in my mind for that are Lord of the Flies (William Golding) and Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury). And of course, there are also so many contemporary writers who have left their imprint, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Heather O'Neill.

How does literature influence your sense of community?
Pursuing an MFA in creative writing has meant that many of my now-dear friends are also writers. There’s a great deal of mutual understanding and encouragement to be found in a literary community, and I know I might not have seen my own debut novel through to publication if it weren’t for the strong support network I encountered through the Can Lit community.

How do you find new books or writers?
Goodreads and CBC Books have introduced me to a lot of new writers, but nothing beats the recommendations of friends and library or bookstore staff. Publishing a novel has taught me a lot about how much people can differ in taste and what they look for in a good book, so I find the best advice still comes from the readers in my life who know me and what kind of stories I really enjoy.

Can you share a memorable experience you’ve had in a bookstore? What makes it stand out for you?
Not one memory in particular, but the countless times I’ve wandered in to a bookstore just because I was passing by, and got lost between the stacks. It feels like grocery shopping on an empty stomach…you always seem to come out with much more than you thought you needed going in. And especially with smaller bookstores, I love the intimacy that comes with speaking to staff, hearing how enthusiastically they can discuss their latest recommended reads.

What do you think Glass Bookshop could offer Edmonton’s community of readers and writers?
In the five years since I moved away, I’ve noticed a big shift on my visits home. Edmontonians are gravitating back toward small, local businesses and embracing everything those have to offer. The city needs places like Glass Bookshop, places where avid readers and non-readers alike can stumble in and find a warm welcome, new discoveries, and inspiration. And knowing how passionate and dedicated the founders of the bookstore are when it comes to fostering the growth of the Edmonton literary scene, I know it will become much, much more than just a store.

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:

Ellen Keith
Matthew Stepanic