Ever wondered what your professors read in their spare time? Do profs only read student papers and academia, or do they indulge in the latest bestsellers like the rest of us? The Medium sits down with Dr. Colin Hill, a professor of Canadian fiction at UTM. He is particularly interested in modernist archives, literary histories, and editorial practices. He is also a co-editor of the University of Toronto Quarterly and oversees its annual Letters in Canada issue.
The Medium: What are you reading right now?
Colin Hill: Right now, I am reading Munich Airport by Greg Baxter.
TM: I see you have a Kindle. Is this what you use to read all of your books?
CH: Yes, mostly. [Professors] have a reputation [for being opposed to reading digitally]. I love tangible books, but I have a small house and I don’t have room for them. I like the fact that you can have so many [books] all in one place. I read all of my journals and newspapers on my iPad and reserve the Kindle for novels. I love books, but I can’t be stuck in the past forever. I have to move with the times. Every year I get a bit older, and it becomes harder to bridge the gap between the students and myself. I try to understand how they think.
Young people today are so digitally astute. I can’t refuse to be a part of digital publishing. I am supposed to be someone who communicates with and educates young people, and young people today are so digital. But I am reluctant to use the Kindle. It feels weird in my hands, it stinks like plastic, and it’s not very cozy, but it’s convenient. I would miss books if they were all gone from the world. I allow myself only one giant bookshelf in my house. I don’t want to be the book version of a cat lady.
TM: Do you spend most of your time reading for work or school, or for pleasure?
CH: There are many things a literature professor has to read, like assignments, emails, reports, and essays. It also depends on the time of year. At this time of year, I have to read a lot of texts for the courses I teach.
But even times like now, when work is all-consuming, I try to read for an hour right before I go to sleep. I like to leave the last hour of the day for reading. If I read before bed, I can read until I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. When I can’t stay awake for any longer, I put my book down and fall right asleep. I like to reserve this time not only for books that are not related to courses, but also books that are not even Canadian. Canadian literature is my specialization, and as much as I enjoy some of it, I still love to read outside of it, too. For pleasure I usually read about 50 or 60 novels a year.
TM: How do you pick your reading material?
CH: Someone once told me, when I was a student nine million years ago, that you do 75 percent of your reading before you graduate, and only 25 percent of your reading during the rest of your life. I thought it should be the other way around—that you have the rest of your life to read. The rest of your life is when you get to choose the kind of stuff you read. I decided that every summer I was going to read as many new Canadian books that came out that year as possible. I’ve stuck with that for the last 10 or 12 years now.
As I get older, I realize that time is limited. Life is too short to read all the books you want to read, even if you have nothing else to do. I don’t want to waste my time reading a bad book—life’s too short to read books that are bad.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.