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Hi, I’m Emma! Welcome to my virtual living room. I assume that if you’ve found your way here, I don’t need to tell you why books are great/necessary/vital. But I will tell you a bit about myself, so you can decide if we’re on the same… page.

I grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario where there were no malls or movie theatres and the closest ‘city’ was nearly an hour’s drive away. So I became a reader out of sheer boredom and a lot of parental encouragement. In my early years, I absolutely crushed the collections of R.L. Stine and Lurlene McDaniel, because apparently I was interested in juxtaposition from a young age.

In the summers when my family and I would go on vacation to Southern Ontario, we would always stop at this place called The Highway Bookshop. My dad (who self-identifies as not a reader) would recline the driver’s seat in the car and nod off immediately, while the rest of the family browsed until we had book stacks larger then ourselves. I remember being in total awe of the floor to ceiling shelves that went on for what seemed like forever in that place. With ladders were strewn about the store to access the shelves, and the odd cat curled up on top various hardbacks, it felt whimsical and otherworldly in there.

The now closed Highway Bookshop in Cobalt, Ontario.

My parents were careful to not buy my sister and I too many frivolous gifts and toys growing up, but when it came to books we were told we could get however many we wanted. So for some, the expression goes that they are ‘as happy as a kid in a candy shop,’ but for me I was always happiest in a bookshop.

As a result of all that reading (and later writing) I earned a diploma in journalism from Canadore College, followed by a degree in English literature and creative writing from the University of Western Ontario. Then, with my diploma and degree in hand, I set out to travel Central America.

The idea was to ‘make it’ as a freelancer. But that didn’t quite go as planned, on account of there never being anything even remotely resembling a plan in the first place. I mostly became really adept at living on a shoestring budget while contending with relentless anxiety as I watched my bank account balance disappear. So, I decided it was time to get a regular job for a bit, and what else could I do, but teach English? I thought if I could help students learn to care about books and writing the way I did, I would be doing just fine. I headed to Cambodia where an old friend said they would be able to help me get set up with a job and an apartment. I’m utterly and completely privileged to have been able to make this move along with so many other foreigners. But ultimately, after two and a half years at the same school, I felt like the daily tasks of lesson planning, grading and trying to keep a classroom in order didn’t fit me right. The job felt more like a too-small sweater. I could contort myself into it sometimes, but it never made me feel like my true self when I was in it.

While being in the classroom wasn’t the experience I was hoping for, I realized that I was looking forward to going to the school’s brand-new library for my prep hours everyday, just to be near the books. It made me think back to my childhood, and all those days spent visiting The Highway Bookshop whenever I could.

A house without books is like a room without windows.”

—Heinrich Mann

The feeling of walking into the bookshop1 and into the library at the school in Cambodia were so similar, and it struck me that I would rather be playing a small role in bringing a book into existence, long before it makes its way to a classroom.

It didn’t take long after I started researching publishing programs, for the one at Centennial College to jump out at me. It covered all facets of the industry from sales and marketing to graphic design and editorial. And so I left my job in Cambodia, moved to Toronto and dove headfirst into being a full time student again. It finally felt like I was on a path that might knit together my erratic career path thus far. After completing a gruelling schedule of 13 classes in 7 months, I was ready to finish the program by completing my hard-won placement.

That’s exactly when the pandemic hit and the entire city shut down.

Suddenly I lost my yoga teaching job, my serving job, as well as my ability to finish my program. Our placements were all put on indefinite hiatus while the world took a collective opportunity to panic. I spent about a month crying in my bathtub, worrying about the world and all the people in it. And let’s be honest, worried about myself. I had no idea what the state of the publishing industry would be on the other side of this thing. And then finally, I decided it was time to…

I switched gears from feeling sad and sorry and worried about literally everything, to trying to find another way to graduate and move forward. Focusing on what I could change and all that. Thankfully, a literary agency called The Rights Factory was willing and able to take me on as a placement student. After six weeks of reading full manuscript submissions and learning how to write detailed reader’s reports and cover copy, I was officially a graduate.

When I think back to those early days of the pandemic, I’m reminded of something our teacher said to us after informing us the placements (and classes) were canceled for the time being. She said that publishing would endure, as it had over the previous centuries and pandemics. That all that was needed was an author, an editor and a handful of individuals dedicated to getting a book out. That was it. We didn’t need an entire cast, or crew, or multi-million dollar production studios. We really just needed one person with a laptop and something to say. And though it’s a grave oversimplification in a lot of ways, sometimes that’s all we really need. To boil things down to their most basic level, so we can actually see them for what they are.

Image of author, Emma Côté sitting on a white blanket beside her typewriter

I remember feeling terrified back then that I had moved home (to the most expensive city in Canada) and sunk everything I had into an industry that might not make it. We silly little humans don’t like sudden change, or derailed plans, because we don’t know how to account for them.

But as it turns out, books and art and music are what get people through hard times. I believe in literature’s unmatched ability to offer us comfort, distraction, or a little bit of guidance. So those are the types of books that I’ll be reviewing on here. I’ll also post updates about my own journey as an author, because I really believe that books make the world a better place, and I’m so happy to be a part of that.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride. It took a while to get here, and with any luck, there’s still a long way to go.

  1. The Highway Bookshop is now permanently closed, but its legacy lives on: https://www.northeasternontario.com/the-highway-book-shop-a-literary-legacy/ ↩︎