They say that animals are sensitive to the weather and will respond to the slightest variation in the air around them or the tiniest tremor beneath their feet.
There are reports of strange behaviours among the elephants of Yala National Park in Indonesia in the hours before the epic tsunami decimated the shoreline. The elephants were running inland, away from the beach.
Even the domesticated animals that we keep as pets can sense these things. Cats in the yard can sense their prey before they see it.
Their ears detect the smallest sound and nose catches the scent only moments before they arrive at our feet with the precious gift of a fresh kill.
Of course in book publishing these things rarely happen so quickly.
Julie Wilson is a Literary Voyeur.
She has a special sensitivity to the books and the readers among us in our natural urban environments. She lurks innocuously by the door of the street car seeming preoccupied by a thread on her scarf or a particularly egregious grammatical error in some ad copy on a passing transit shelter.
She sees what you’re reading. She can see that you’re halfway through a dogeared paperback and she knows that given the intensity of your concentration there’s a good chance that you’ll miss your appointed stop.
She recognizes the listless reader of popular paperbacks. The lovers of the memoir. The young man trying to understand why anyone in the world would ever try to read the Mayor of Casterbridge much less actually finish it but dammit the good looking guy that he met last week at the Pour House says that it’s his favorite book ever and, well, sometimes you just gotta make the effort.
Her observations are not just field notes.
Julie is not merely tracking the fluttering presence of paper-based entertainment products along the thoroughfares and park benches of our cities.
When Julie Wilson sees someone reading in public she sees a story in progress. The story emerges to Julie as her imagination elicits context from the person’s demeanor, their dress, the book that they’re holding, its vintage and specific edition. What those influences and others trigger in her becomes a point of departure for her own creativity.
Her writing, infused by a strong visual poetic sensibility, leaps from that moment and captures something for the reader – an image, a hidden joke, memories of fishing expeditions, youthful moments – that shine distinct and unique for their consideration.
The magic of Julie’s book exists not only in the immediacy of her language or the power of her imagery but in the intimate relationship that the book shares with its audience. Readers of the earliest stories on the internet and the community of Literary Voyeurs who shared their sightings on twitter get a special delight in seeing a print edition of Julie’s vision.
Seen Reading is a collection of microfictions.
These short bursts of poetic prose are inspired by Julie’s encounters with readers and their books during her travels across Toronto.
Many of the pieces are short enough to be read between stops on the bus but they’re rich enough to stay with you for the entire day. But it’s not just the stories that stay in your mind but the little personal details about the person and the book that Julie saw that inspired the piece.
Why that particular detail and why that book in that specific edition? Who are these people, where are they coming from? What happened in that moment that provided the creative trigger for Julie? What am I saying to the people around me when I’m reading on the bus? Is anyone paying any attention? Are they parsing my details? Is this book impacting the reality of the people around me?
It’s like quantum reading.
Aren’t we always making up stories in our heads about the people that we see?
What does it mean that the pretty young woman is reading a Shopaholic paperback, or that the collared priest is clutching an edition of Byatt’s Possession, or the nappy rasta on the Bloor Line is engrossed by Malcolm X’s autobiography?
Or that you, dear reader, have downloaded the ebook to your touchscreen tablet?
The cat is in the yard with its nose twittering and its ears alert to the presence of tasty prey.
Those birds sure are making a lot of noise in the branches of that tree. A clamour, in fact. Why don’t they come down here to the nice warm grass for a little game?
Julie Wilson sensed the disruption before it arrived and she knew where to take cover.
She understood and intuited the calamitous changes that were about to assail the reading public as ereaders, tablets, ebooks, eink and digital commerce turned the traditionally placid waters of book publishing into a sea of unpredictable drama.
Julie was a popular book blogger when book bloggers were an industry scourge. She was there when indignant tweets boomed from corner offices, when weekend books pages ceased to exist, when the normally retiring publishing industry came face to face with their readers for the first time as the tech titans battled for control of their mere content.
Julie is still there riding out the storm in the safest place imaginable: among the true fans of books, the readers.
It is a fitting detail that Seen Reading’s print edition is published by an independent press from Calgary, Alberta (the aforementioned Freehand Books) while also being simultaneously distributed as an ebook by Harper Collins Canada.
It’s a unique partnership, I think, and like most things in this book it shows what’s possible.
Seen Reading is an homage to the power of books in people’s lives and an homage to readers.
It is a significant and timely addition to our literature.
It is an optimistic book that shows us the poetry and potential in the simplest things that we do.