Project Bookshelf: Kanika Lawton

When my parents moved from Vancouver, Canada to Washington last year, they asked for my help because, in their words, “You’re good at organizing and getting rid of stuff.” It’s true, except it only really applies to clothes; fashion comes and goes, and I don’t fit into a lot of my older clothes now, so I don’t feel a sentimental attachment to them.

I can’t say the same about books. Books helped me get through large parts of my childhood and teenage years, so the thought of letting go of any of them is unthinkable. So much of my life and memories are stitched within their pages, so getting rid of them feels like getting rid of parts of myself.

I’m good at organizing until it comes to my books, which you can see in my little bookshelf in my apartment in Toronto. I moved to Toronto in the summer of 2018 for grad school, studying and teaching cinema studies at the University of Toronto.

A lot of the books here are tied directly to my degree: on one shelf you’ll see books on film criticism and theory, peer-reviewed film journals, Film Art: An Introduction, a textbook I used as an undergrad (my edition has Inglourious Basterds on the cover), an encyclopedia of essential films, and so on. Cinema studies owes a lot to philosophy, so I also have books from Deleuze, Irigaray, Derrida, and Foucault (shout out to one of my friends who helped me complete my collection of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, which brings me to another thing; I have to make sure any books I get in a series match one another!).

Even though a lot of my books here are academic because, well, I moved to Toronto for academics, I also managed to grow my fiction and poetry collections. One thing I love about Toronto is how many used bookstores there are. I can usually be found wandering around BMV Books near campus, leafing through their huge selection of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction books. This is where I was introduced to Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (one of my favorite collections of poetry) and Ursula K. Le Guin’s essays on utopia. Also, since I practically lived in the library while writing my master’s thesis, I took advantage of the library’s numerous used book sales, which is how I got my biographies on the Borgias and Lord Byron. I group anything that isn’t strictly academic together, so this shelf has a nice mix of poetry and short story collections, graphic novels, anthologies, and fiction.

This bookshelf isn’t nearly as big as the one I had in our old house, so I started playing Tetris with my books. You can see them piling on top of one another, and I have stacks of books strewn all around my bedroom. Still, I love growing my own personal library, especially since I can trace who I was through their cherished pages.

This bookshelf holds just a fraction of my collection. I’m currently in our new house in Olympia, Washington, my childhood favorites pushed up against my bedroom walls. I’ve started sorting through the boxes and boxes of books the movers packed for us, reminiscing on how much they impacted me. How many times did I reread Master and Margarita to the point where the spine is falling apart? How many summer days did I spend nose-deep in one of my favorite encyclopedias, absorbing information? (Yes, I collected encyclopedias and books of lists as a child). Just the other day we bought new bookshelves, which will inevitably house the books I’m currently surrounded by. Even so, I can’t help but feel a surge of nostalgic contentment whenever I turn the pages of the books I spent so much of my time with. I can’t part with such memories, especially when I can pick them up whenever I want.

Kanika Lawton holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and an MA from the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. She is the Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a 2018 Pink Door Fellow, and a 2020 BOAAT Writer’s Retreat Poetry Fellow. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper MagazineVagabond City Literary JournalGlass Poetry, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others. 

Meet Our New Intern: Kanika Lawton

I read voraciously as a child. I imagine anyone would in my position; I had a loving family, but I was teased mercilessly throughout elementary school. I spent most of my time alone: sitting in my favorite corner of the school library thumbing through the bookshelves, wandering into the forest next to my school and imagining being on a daring adventure. I became fast friends with a dog whose owner lived in a house right next to the field; I would tell him that, one day, we’ll explore exciting places far away from here.

My urge to read everything I could get my hands on got me into trouble. I was reprimanded in Grade Six for reading books meant only for Grade Seven students (the highest grade in my school) and scolded for reading Seventeen magazines when I was nowhere close to being in the “appropriate” age range. Still, I held onto books and the small sense of freedom and hope they gave me because, at the time, they were all I had. This world of brave girls and quests and imaginary lands made me feel less alone.

In Grade Five I started writing down the stories I would make up in my head to pass the time. They were strange—one was about a small snake trying to follow a wagon train à la Little House on the Prairie, while another was about a tennis ball who rolled away from his family—but my teachers liked them, so I felt encouraged to keep going. Eventually, I found my way into Honours English and AP English in high school, where I fell in love with Shakespeare’s plays and the Romantic poets and, surprisingly enough, James Joyce’s Dubliners (if you’re reading this Mr. Wallace, thank you for bringing us to so many Bard on the Beach performances and letting us read Dubliners). I read its final short story—”The Dead”—over and over again, struck by the epiphany that nearly brought Gabriel Conroy to his knees. Maybe this story came to me at the right time; on the cusp of graduation, not knowing what I wanted to do while telling everyone I had a plan. I bought a copy while I was in Québec the summer before I started college, holding it close when I made the sudden decision to change my major.

I’ve had a few small epiphanies since then: realizing this is what I’ve always wanted to do while sitting in my honors Arts program, when I decided to go to grad school for cinema studies, the first time someone told me my poetry meant something to them. I’ve been chasing that sudden clarity since, that breathless moment when everything either fits into place or shatter in the most exalting way possible. When I read, watch, or experience something that makes time stop around me, it etches itself into my memories, like it’s a part of me now.

Maybe that’s what drove me to establish my online literary and art journal L’Éphémère Review and dive deeper into writing and editing and becoming a better literary citizen; chasing epiphanies and sharing them with as many people as I can. Stories have intrinsically changed who I am as a person and giving back to the communities that shaped me is the least I can do. This is why I’m grateful I have the opportunity to work for Sundress Publications; we are all made up of stories that deserve to be told, and being able to help others tell their stories is something I feel like I was meant to do.

Kanika Lawton holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and an MA from the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. She is the Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a 2018 Pink Door Fellow, and a 2020 BOAAT Writer’s Retreat Poetry Fellow. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, Vagabond City Literary Journal, Glass Poetry, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others.