Reading Life: Kathryn Kuitenbrower

For the third instalment in the TRB’s Reading Life series, Kelli Deeth sat down with Toronto novelist Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer.

Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer is the author of the novels All The Broken Things, Perfecting, and The Nettle Spinner, as well as, the short story collection, Way Up. Her work has been published in Granta, The Walrus, and Storyville, where she won the Sidney Prize. She is currently a PhD candidate in the English department at the University of Toronto.

What do you most enjoy reading, and how often do you indulge in the habit?

I read indiscriminately across genres: short fiction, novels, long essays, journalism, cereal boxes, facebook profiles, critical theory, poetry, psychoanalysis.

What do you subscribe to and why?

I change subscriptions annually or bi-annually. I have subscribed to The New Yorker, The Walrus, Brick, This, Tin House, A Public Space, Filter, The New Quarterly, Little Brother, Granta, The London Review of Books, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail and many more magazines, newspapers, and journals.

What’s your favourite library, a) in Toronto, and b) somewhere else?

  1. a) Lillian Smith (especially the children’s archive) b) years ago on this Thai beach south of Bangkok, there was a little lending library at a café I frequented for a week. I loved that library and still recall all the Martin Amis I read in my little jungle hut.

Your bookshelves are on fire: what do you save?

My tarot deck, my signed Joan Bodgers, my Lang fairytales, and everything by Maria Tatar. I also have a 19th century Italian/English leather bound copy of the erotic Proverbs in Jest by Antonio Cornazzano. I would save that.

It’s Tuesday night, around 8pm. How do you decide what to read?

Lately, I’ve been reading for my PhD dissertation, so I would likely choose a text discussing eros. Something Lacanian or Freudian inflected. Of late: Eric Santner, Mari Ruti, Bruce Fink, Winnicott, Maggie Nelson, Helen Cixous.

What do you most enjoy reading, and how often do you indulge in the habit?

I read in bed or on a couch. I read a lot.

How many hours a week do you spend reading?


Fiction or non? Why?

Both. To learn and to be taken away and deep into myself.

How many pounds of poetry per year?

I read less poetry than I should. I’m ashamed to admit this and every year plan to rectify it.

Do you write in the books you read?

Yes. I write in books. I also draw in books.

 What are you reading now? What drew you to this book and what keeps you reading it?

I am rereading Tristram Shandy. I read it first for a course and now I am preparing to write about it for a chapter in my dissertation. I will be writing about its disruptive typography. It’s very strange and very funny. And, of course, it is brilliant – his work has influenced so many writers after him.

What well-known classic do you have yet to read? Why do you want to read it? Why have you avoided it?

I have not read the “harder” Joyce but plan to in the coming months – Finnegan’s Wake.

Who is an author you wish were more well known?

I want to say Margaret of Cavendish. Also, Yoko Ogawa. And Taeko Kono (mostly so that more would be translated).

Has social media or new technology changed your reading habits? If so, how?

I read way more articles and (often funny) articles and watch text on a screen way more that I ever would have before the invention of the interwebs. I both laud and lament this turn of events. It creates a kind of group-mind that feels sometimes over regulated.

Do you collect or just keep books? Are they furniture? Why or why not?

I collect and keep books. I keep books out of the library for as long as possible. In the case of Robarts, this sometimes means I keep a book for months before returning it. I get really attached to books.

How did you learn to read?

I don’t remember. I was really young – 3? I just knew how to read or it seems so.

Who read to you as a child? Do you have a specific memory of being read to by this person?

My mother and my babysitter. I recall my mother reading the Jungle Book to my sisters and me. I was lying on the floor and I was definitely Mowgli as she read.

What book did you love as an adolescent?  Why? What need did it meet?

Everything by Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. I also loved The Hitchkikers Guide to the Galaxy but more the radio show than the books. I also loved Jonathan Livingstone Seagull – that is a little embarrassing to me now but I read it compulsively whenever I felt blue.

Did you enjoy or struggle with reading as a child?

I loved reading.

Where is the most unlikely or even uncomfortable place you’ve ever found yourself reading (Ex. a blizzard, an emergency room)?

The answer to this is unspeakable.

Where do you prefer to read?

In a comfortable chair in the country in warm weather.

 Have you ever felt transformed by a book?

Yes, lots of times. Maggie Nelson, Anne Carson, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Chris Adrian, Sara Maitland, Daniel Defoe, Margery Kempe, and especially reading fairytales.

Is there a writer from another time or place who you feel is actually writing about you?


What book have you read more than once? Why did you reread it? Was the book the same for you each time?

I’ve read Robinson Crusoe four or five times now. Also, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Patrick McCabe’s Winterwood. A book read again is always more than it was the first time. More strange, more diabolical, more mysterious. I reread to understand why I am obsessed with them.