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Read All Over - Natalie Porter

Read All Over celebrates the bookworm in all of us, showcasing readers in Vancouver and the books they love most.

As a Community Librarian, Natalie enjoys partnering with organizations, such as addiction centres and soup kitchens, to welcome and create new connections with individuals who may have barriers accessing the library's services. So when you see her and the Majestic Unicorn Motorcycle Club members ride past displaying their aggressive unicorn patches, don’t be afraid – she may even stop if you appear to be looking for a good read. This MUMC, who meet out of their own garage called Dirtymoto, have been receiving some press in the California-based magazine Dice (Issue #53), as well as an article in the local Motorcycho zine.

Natalie is also involved in creating a collaborative zine called Idlewood featuring women who skateboard and ride motorcycles with Antisocial shop owner, Michelle Pezel.  Issues #4 and #5 of Idlewood are expected to be released soon and will be available at Antisocial.

Both Motorcycho and Idlewood zines are available at VPL, in their growing zine collection as VPL is actively seeking local zines for circulation.

Read All Over celebrates the bookworm in all of us, showcasing readers in Vancouver and the books they love most.

What's on your nightstand right now? Are you enjoying it?

I tend to always have a few fiction and non-fiction on the go, so right now I’m reading The Vagabond by Colette, Phantastes by George MacDonald, and Love and Living by Thomas Merton.

Colette writes from an autobiographical perspective featuring the life of a divorced woman in France during the 1920s.  The character Renee has chosen to work in the dance halls of Paris to eke out a living, considers a second marriage, and uses her writing to find refuge from loneliness.  Her writing is personal, beautiful and raw, which I like.

I’m reading Phantastes because MacDonald was an influence on C.S. Lewis, who I admire.  It’s a bit slow-going for me, but I’m stubborn and want to complete it.

Thomas Merton is a new author for me, and so far I’m enjoying how he encourages contemplation and reflection that is really accessible.  He is respected within both Buddhist and Christian traditions, a good friend of Thich Nhat Hanh (Buddhist monk poet from Vietnam), and I could just underline this entire book, it’s so full of wisdom.

Is this the genre you usually prefer? Why?  

I find myself reading fiction that either features women or is by a woman author probably because it’s easiest to find a point of empathy and I generally like to support female writers.  I just read The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, and she pretty much nailed it for me as the protagonist, like myself rides motorcycles and is involved in interesting subcultures. Plus, it was so well-written and researched.

In terms of non-fiction, I’m interested in biographical stories that feature people who have overcome adversity, or books that challenge me and deepen my connection to others.  So, I’ve been reading authors like Henri Nouwen, Ravi Zacharias, Ronald Rolheiser, and Merton, and I especially liked Walking on Water: Reflections on Art and Faith by Madeleine L’Engle, who I loved reading as a child.

What's next on your list?

Every year I make it a goal to read at least one hefty classic, like a Dostoyevsky or some other Russian tome but it’s a dilemma because the beefy books slow down my reading turn-over.  I’ve kept a list of every book I’ve read since age 14 and try to beat my “score” from the previous year.  It’s super nerdy, but really great to be able to look back and reflect on what authors and titles I enjoyed over the years.

I was chatting with a library patron about how we love apocalyptic reads, such as Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and Handmaid’s Tale, and other authors like Cormac McCarthy, John Wyndham, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley.  She was suggesting I try some classics like Earth Abides by George R. Stewart and Time Machine by H.G. Wells, so I’ll check them out.  The best part about the library is that if I’m not digging it, I’ll just bring it back.

Who is your favourite Vancouver author/ What is your favourite story set in Vancouver?

I was skateboarding a lot at Confederation Park in Burnaby in the early 2000s, and was part of an interesting mix of creative guys and girls who hung out there.  I made friends with Michael Christie, a fellow skateboarder going to SFU at the time, and was really pumped to see that he came out with The Beggar’s Garden in 2011.  The short stories are all set in the downtown eastside with a great range of characters.  I definitely support his work.

What magazines/journals can you not live without?

I haven’t devoted myself to any particular magazine or journal.  I’m pretty stuck on reading books, with the occasional flip through a home design magazine.  I do contribute to a local ‘zine called Idlewood, which is organized by Michelle Pezel at Antisocial Skateboard Shop.  We’re just wrapping up issue number 5, and it always features women who ride motorbikes and skateboards, and then a big mish mash of random stuff.

Idlewild issues #1, #2, #3

Do you read these mostly online or print, and why?

I tend to read print because I decided not to have internet access at home, and my phone is pretty ghetto.  I’ve always been slow in adopting new technology and media, maybe because we never had a television growing up, and yet it’s part of my job to use online tools, databases and even instruct on eBook reader downloads.  I’m not a total Luddite, I just find print more comforting and personal.

Where is your favourite place to crack open a book in the city?

I’m a hermit reader and like to read at home on my couch, in front of the fireplace.  I have a small library of books (that I keep in alphabetical order by author!), and limit myself to purchasing no more titles than the shelves can hold.

Sometimes I’ll have the radio going, but generally I prefer silence.  In good weather I will read at the beach or park, but avoid certain places where I think I will see people I know and who may interrupt my reading!  A wee bit antisocial, but I really value my solo time with a book.

What is your reading style in five words or less?

Absorbed, mesmerized and focused

Which books or authors have influenced you the most?

In my twenties I went through a phase of reading loads of melancholic, brooding women writers like Anais Nin, Francoise Sagan, Colette, Sylvia Plath and Jean Rhys, since I found this style comforting at the time.  Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys is still one of my all-time favourites.  There is an ache of loneliness present in all Rhys’ books, and tales of heartbreak that she must have experienced firsthand.  Rhys is best known for Wide Sargasso Sea and was re-discovered as a writer of distinction late in life, but is quoted as saying, “It has come too late.”

Is there a memorable quote or excerpt from something you've read recently that you'd like to share?

I was on a roadtrip around South America and picked up Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver along the way.  This was a quote that stood out for me…

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for.  And the most you can do is live inside that hope.  Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

Were you obsessed with any particular book or story as a child?

I remember loving a library copy of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm, particularly for the illustrations by Kay Nielsen in an art nouveau style.  I was always a tomboy, running after my brothers and had no desire to be a princess, but I appreciated how beautiful the drawings were and loved how magical the story was.

What were your favourites growing up?

Once I was reading on my own my favourite authors were Madeleine L’Engle, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, Christopher John, Kit Pearson, Ursula K. LeGuin, Janet Lunn, Lloyd Alexander, Penelope Lively, O.R. Melling, Maurice Gee, and Welwyn Wilton Katz.  The books tended to have a Sci/Fi or Fantasy leaning with time travel, magic, druids and dragons.

I was absolutely floored as a pre-teen when I discovered the writer Tamora Pierce and her “Alanna” series, which featured a tomboy warrior named Alanna who sneaks into an all-boys knight school and is a total ruler.

Was there any individual in particular that shaped your development as a reader? How?

My parents are both avid readers and as a child my dad read me the Hobbit and the whole Lord of the Rings series, and at lunchtimes my mom would read me the Narnia series and lots of L.M. Montgomery.  They weren’t allowed to swap series because I would become accustomed to the way for example my dad portrayed Gollum, and only he could do the right voice!

Reading books was really encouraged in our family, and I have great memories as a child of going into the city (Toronto) with my parents and spending hours at a beautiful bookstore called “Nicholas Hoare.” I was allowed to select my own titles to buy and create my own collection.  Sadly, that bookstore closed down last spring!

What is the most cherished item in your library?

I have a first edition copy of Trout Fishing in America (1967) by Richard Brautigan that is pretty sweet, as it was recommended to me by a good friend.  I found it for 50 cents at the annual Friends of the VPL booksale, so that makes me happy.

As well, I love the feel of A.S. Byatt's The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Five fairy stories.  It is a small format in hardcover with a 19th Century Persian painting of a musician on the cover.  It has a magical quality since the book includes old block print images, the paper has weight, and the stories are mysterious.  I received it when I was 17 for a Christmas present.

The one book you always recommend is...?

I can get really excited about whatever book I have on the go and recommend it until it is trumped by something else or when the plotline fades from memory.  I used to push Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, and I still recommend it, because the style is just unlike anything I have ever read.  But I realized that the magic realism is not for everybody and it is a hefty read.

Lately, as a librarian, I’ve noticed I turn to Halfbroke Horses by Jeannette Walls since a lot of people know her for The Glass Castle and it features Walls’ super rad grandmother.  This lady was breaking horses as a little girl, trekking cross-country solo on her horse through the southern States in her teens, learning to fly planes like Amelia Earhart, and just sounded like someone I would want to meet.

Are you a hoarder or a give-away-er with books?  

I like to encourage the use of the public library, so if I am suggesting a title to a friend I will even offer to place a request for them.  With my personal books I’m hesitant as I’ve lost a few, so there’s only a couple of individuals I will loan to.

What's the last book you purchased?

I bought a children’s book for my niece called Pippi Moves In! by Astrid Lindgren.  It’s the classic story of Pippi Longstocking in comic form, featuring the work of Danish illustrator, Ingrid Vang Nyman.  It was recommended to me by a co-worker, Adam Smith who has awesome taste in children’s books!

The Dirty Moto Gang reading

What's the last book you lent/gave away?

I’m part of an all-girls motorcycle club and garage, where we work on our dirtbikes and street bikes, sharing the cost of renting the space.  So, when I read Gasoline Gypsy by Peggy Iris Thomas I had to share it with my crew!  The book was written in the 1950s describing Thomas’s story of how she bought a 125cc BSA Bantam motorbike in England at age 26 and then decided to head over to Canada with the bike and her sweet Airedale dog for an epic roadtrip.  She gets through over 14,000 miles solo across Canada, into the U.S. and Mexico with the dog riding on the back.  It’s a great story and the 2nd edition was only recently published.  I would love to own a First edition copy!  It’s my life mission to discover one in some random used bookstore.

Your life story is published tomorrow; the title is...?

The Prodigal Biker Librarian

Thank you for this wonderful interview Natalie!