The first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning is books. Standing beside my bed against the wall is a large bookcase that holds part of my eclectic collection of books, most of which I have read, while some are still waiting their turn to be fitted into my regrettably diminished schedule of available reading time.
I have always loved reading books. When my burgeoning curiosity was in full flower during my high school and university years, I would demolish two or three books a week. By the time I hit my forties my personal library numbered in the thousands. In recent decades as our kids grew up and left home, we began to downsize our family home, and with that came a necessary corresponding downsizing of my literary collection. I am now down to only several hundred books, most of which are filling up boxes in my basement.
The collection that sits beside my bed is an interesting mélange that reflects my broad tastes and interests. I have some frequently used reference books including well-worn English-Ukrainian and Ukrainian-English dictionaries. Ukraine – A History by Orest Subtelny is my authoritative source on all things pertaining to the history of the land of my ancestors. The massive five volume Encyclopedia of Ukraine published by the University of Toronto Press has been an invaluable resource for the research behind much of my writings. Searching for Place by Lubomyr Luciuk and The Ukrainian Americans by Myron Kuropas are old favorites about the Ukrainian immigrant experience in North America. Needless to say, I also have Shevchenko’s Kobzar collection of poetry in both the Ukrainian and English languages.
On the upper shelf is a Ukrainian Bible presented to me in Ukraine by Bishop Mefodiy of Sumy, while next to it is a standard King James version English bible presented to me by one of my oldest friends from university, Don Fraser, when I was undertaking my own personal researches into comparative religions.
Myrna Kostash has long been one of my favorite Ukrainian Canadian authors, and I have most of her books from her first (All of Baba’s Children) to her latest (Prodigal Daughter). Nearby are the books of Marsha Skrypuch, including Underground Soldier, Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler. I recently finished several books that were nominated for this past year’s Kobzar Litererary Awards, and I especially liked Orest Martynowych’s book on the life of Vasile Avramenko, the extraordinary showman that introduced Ukrainian folk dance to North America.
One book that I especially enjoyed reading several years ago was Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats. Now that she is a Cabinet Minister, perhaps she will be able to start addressing some of the economic issues and inequities that she exposed so forcefully in that book.
After my stints of living in Ukraine, I brought back many books in the Ukrainian language, which after living in an immersion Ukrainian environment, I was finally able to read with some ease, though I always kept a Ukrainian-English dictionary handy. My favorite contemporary Ukrainian authors include Pavlo Zahrebelny, Yurii Andrukhovych and Oksana Zabuzhko.
I guess it should be no surprise that a lot of my books reflect my Ukrainian heritage and interests. However, I should note that I also have a large collection of books that are more universal in scope and language. History has always been a passion, and I have a large trove of books on the history of Canada, the U.S., Europe and virtually corners of this vast globe of ours. My wife likes to remind me, usually with a soupcon of sarcasm, that I finished William Shirer’s classic Rise and Fall of the Third Reich on our honeymoon.
I have over the years acquired a taste for certain authors and have made a point of reading any book they ever put out. This has included such authors as Bill Bryson, P.D. James, John LeCarre, Joseph Campbell, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Mordecai Richler, James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Bronte sisters, D. H. Lawrence, Arthur Conan Doyle, James Clavell, Jacob Bronowski, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and many others. And of course, I should not forget to mention that I have a passion for William Shakespeare. I also have a weakness for certain contemporary poets, particularly Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsburg, Maya Angelou and especially Pablo Neruda.
Books are nourishment for body and soul and, next to my memories, are the most precious things that I have collected over the course of my life.