Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Special Interview with Amy Mathers of Amy's Marathon of Books

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Amy Mathers. Photo Credit: Camilia Kahrizi

Amy Mathers is the woman behind the inspiring project, Amy’s Marathon of Books, an initiative she started to help raise money for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, with the intention of establishing an annual award honouring Canadian Teen Fiction. Inspired by Terry Fox, who ran 1 kilometre every six minutes during his Marathon of Hope, Amy decided she would work around her physical limitations and read one book a day, every day, for the entire 2014 year. Amy’s journey can be followed on her website, where people can also support Amy’s cause by making a donation toward the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Today, Amy speaks to Open Book about reading her way across Canada, why she loves Teen Fiction and how she hopes her Marathon of Books will demonstrate that anyone can make a positive societal contribution, no matter their physical ability.

Open Book:

Tell us about your Marathon of Books.

Amy Mathers:

After I attended my first Canadian Children's Book Awards Gala, I noticed the lack of a specific teen fiction award. To me that was a major gap, because teen fiction is my favourite genre and there are so many excellent Canadian teen fiction authors. But I wasn't sure what I could personally do about it.

The next summer I kept noticing advertisements for marathons, and I felt left out because it was my first summer using an electric wheelchair. So I tried to think about what I could do instead of walking, running or biking, and I came to reading. I am an avid reader, and I decided to challenge myself by reading a book a day for an entire year. The awesome part is I am reading my way across Canada, all Canadian teen fiction authors, from coast to coast. Like Terry Fox, I started my reading in Newfoundland and I have made my way through the Maritimes, Quebec and I am currently reading through Ontario. The books are either set in the place I am reading from, or the author was born there or lives there.

The goal of my Marathon of Books is to raise $100,000 and start a Canadian teen fiction book award with a $5,000 cash prize to be given out yearly by the Canadian Children's Book Centre. So far my Marathon of Books has raised nearly $14,000, but I still have a lot of reading and fundraising to do.

OB:

What is it about Canadian teen fiction that speaks to you?

AM:

Teen fiction is my favourite genre because it tackles the difficult topics with emotional honesty and depth. Characters are often at a time in their lives when the future is still being determined, and their experiences haven't jaded them yet. Teen characters are often adaptable in the face of adversity and the way they question the world provide insights into the human condition for teen and adult readers alike.

The Canadian aspect shows itself in the many stories about survival and our relationship to the land of our vast and beautiful country. Living here is not easy between the terrain and the weather, but we persevere and seek to make something more of ourselves even under the bleakest of circumstances. I've read several powerful works of historical fiction during my Marathon of Books, and as a result have learned Canada has a lot to be proud of and a lot to answer for.

OB:

Could you describe for us what your typical reading day is like? How do you stay motivated?

AM:

Usually I try to read my book for the day in the morning so I have some time to think about the book before writing the review and my blog in the evening. It's tricky when I have appointments and other commitments during the day, and at times I have some late nights trying to get my writing finished.

I stay motivated because I love reading. I know from personal experience that the time we get isn't guaranteed, and so I am determined to do what I want to do with the time that I have. Like everyone, I get discouraged and feel like giving up sometimes, but for me, I also know that if I stick it out, I won't feel that way forever. During the times when I am at my lowest I keep going because I'm completing a Marathon of Books, and I can't lose the momentum I've built up so far. I take inspiration from Terry Fox, who commented that when he ran, at times he just took it one telephone pole at a time. For me, some days it's just one page at a time, and if I can get through that page, that chapter, that book, then I can do it again the next day and the next. I'm almost halfway through my Marathon of Books and there's no way I can give up now.

OB:

What are some of the titles you've read so far that really stood out for you?

AM:

That's a tough one. There are so many. I love when authors try something different, like Sheree Fitch with Pluto's Ghost or Richard Scrimger with Ink Me. I personally connect with well-written stories featuring illness and adversity, like Cheryl Rainfield's Scars and Absolutely Invincible by William Bell. But I also love the books that take you by surprise with great, complicated characters, such as First Day on Earth by Cecil Castellucci or The Manager by Caroline Stellings. Those are just a few of the books that stood out for me. It's hard to pick the best from over 170 books I've read at this point.

OB:

How would you like to see your Marathon change attitudes towards people with disabilities?

AM:

I was born with a genetic illness called Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD), type 3a. The disease has caused me to need a liver transplant which I received when I was five, and then a heart transplant, which I received when I was 27. I've grown up dealing with chronic illness, acute illness, life-threatening illness and disability because GSD is also a muscular dystrophy.

Terry Fox was my childhood hero, because his Marathon of Hope showed me that if you put your mind to something, you could do great things, even if you were facing illness and disability. Rick Hansen furthered this idea with his Man in Motion tour, proving to Canada that being in a wheelchair didn't have to stop you from doing what you wanted to either.

As a country, Canada has made huge strides in our treatment of disabled people through accessibility, but boundaries still exist. And in a world where physical autonomy is highly valued, it's easy to feel like having an illness or a disability that impairs a person's ability to be autonomous means their life is not worth living. I hope people will see my Marathon of Books for what it is, an attempt to show people that no matter what their physical ability, we can all contribute to society in positive ways. Sometimes it's through a marathon, and sometimes it's through the simple act of loving others.

Amy Mathers has been passionate about reading from a very young age. Born with a type of glycogen storage disease, Amy received a liver transplant at the age of five and a heart transplant when she was 27. Despite her physical challenges she has volunteered in various libraries, worked as a bibliotherapist, taken part in a high school reading selection committee and co-written and co-taught a college course called “Assisting Families Dealing with Chronic Illness & Disability.” Amy is looking forward to beginning her reading journey across Canada, and hopes others will share her enthusiasm for funding a teen book award.

For more information about Amy's Marathon of Books please visit her official website.

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