Books I Read & Books I Keep: Kobo’s Head Bookseller, Nathan Maharaj

By Ben Landau

Everyone has books they can’t bear to part with.

Whether due to sentimental or decorative value, or just the fear of parting with something you may one day want to read again (“What if I need to relearn high school geometry someday?”), the things we read have a sneaky way of becoming a permanent part of our homes. And why not? Books are beautiful!

Of course, not everything you own—including your reading materials—deserves this rarified place in your life. The 15th installment in your favourite romance series, that business book you bought so you could sift through a single chapter—there’s no need to have every novel ever collected filling up space in your book-bloated bedroom.

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As anyone who has experienced the life changing magic of tidying can attest, decluttering your life can help you better appreciate the things that really do spark joy. With this in mind, we asked our Head Bookseller,Nathan Maharaj—a man who has spent nearly 20 years working with books—to show (and tell) us how he lives with books.

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There are definitely too many books in my house. I’ve worked in the book business my entire adult life, so much of my library is made up of books I was given by someone in publishing, often in an early pre-release edition. There’s also a ton of hardcovers I picked up for a song from the bargain books section of Chapters when my wife and I worked there in university. It’s a good problem to have, but in the last few years I’ve been really conscious of not making it worse. eBooks and digital generally has been a huge help there, whether bought from Kobo or borrowed from the Toronto Public Library.

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I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I get them all digitally from the Toronto Public Library. Because I listen to them while I’m running, I have a strong preference for the types of books where I don’t need to catch every word to appreciate the book. So I tend to go to business books a lot, and “big idea” non-fiction like Malcolm Gladwell (though Gladwell gets misquoted so often I should probably be paying more attention than I can while running). Sometimes, I’ll go with or narrative non-fiction where I’ve seen the movie and already have a sense of the story’s broad strokes. This stuff is such a steady part of my reading life it’s kind of strange that it’s almost completely unrepresented on my shelves or even on any devices. But it also passes through fashions so quickly that’s probably just as well.

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Jumping back to my hardcover bargain books, I have some real finds, like my favourite book by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Unconsoled. I got to meet him last year and he signed it! When I reread it I’ll definitely do it as an ebook, but I can’t bear to ever let this hardcover go.

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The Children’s Hospital is a beautiful hardcover that was given to me as a birthday gift by a friend who shares the same birthday. McSweeney’s always does such a great job making books you want to hold, which I know from my years as a bookseller is a hugely important factor in getting people to buy a book. But I still haven’t read it. I think I read a bad review and have held that against it all this time. I don’t know how long it’s been, but I think we’ve moved with it so it could be 10 years.

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We have so many kids books. We go through phases, where two or three are in rotation for bedtime reading for a week or so. And neither my wife nor I have had a lot of success in getting our boys, ages four and six, to offer up a significant portion of their library to donate. There are ones I think we’ll never give up, though, like this pop-up Moby Dick, and this one about dinosaurs. I love the illustrators Julie Morstad and Jon Klassen, and we have a few of their books, which I think we’ll keep long after the kids outgrow them.

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This is the old Kobo Glo I’ve given my eldest son, who’s almost 7. Most of the time he reads books in print, often borrowed from the library. But it’s summer now which means travel and camping, so I’ve had to load up his eReader with Geronimo Stilton and something called Stick Dog.

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These days I never seem to reach for print books. Maybe because there’s always a new Kobo eReader prototype to put through its paces [not pictured–sorry!] or a beta version of one of our apps to play with. But I think even if I didn’t work for Kobo I’d be the kind of reader seeking out technology to solve problems of shelf space. It seems there’s never enough time to read, but always one more book to acquire.

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