Samuel was born in Toronto in 1960. He has been teaching composition for a number of years as a member of the adjunct faculty in the English department at Youngstown State University in Ohio. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in French in 1983 from Middlebury College of Vermont, and his Master of Arts degree in English in 1987 from Youngstown State University. He has written for the Metro Monthly, a local monthly publication in Youngstown, Ohio. A serous film buff, he has also written reviews for allreelnews.com.
How would you describe yourself as a reader? When did you first become aware of your love of books?
I don’t think there was ever a time when I was not aware of my love of books. I don’t even think I can remember a time when I didn’t read. I’ve seen some old pictures of me as a toddler with my father. He would be sitting in a chair reading the newspaper, and I would be standing on the other side reading the back page. We just couldn’t get very many pictures of me where I wasn’t reading.
My mother was even more of a reader than my father, and the house was always full of books. I was always very curious about books and language, and began reading well before I started school. When you’re that young, you have an instinct that the world is a much bigger place than anybody lets on and I always thought reading was one of the keys to a world bigger than my house, my street and my city.
At the risk of sounding like the worst sort of snob, I would describe myself as a cultivated reader. In other words, I keep making an effort to be a better reader and to be more widely read. Every so often while I read, I might put the book down and savor a line of dialogue or a particularly vivid description or piquant turn of phrase.
How has your taste changed over the years? What has influenced it most?
I went through a long period of favoring nonfiction over fiction. As an English major in graduate school, I was fascinated by linguistics rather than literature. Maybe that’s not all that unusual for a former French major. However, one of my first steps toward a greater love of fiction was discussing literature with an equally passionate group of readers. That’s probably the age when most of us first find that sort of environment.
If you go off to graduate school and major in English and you got your bachelor’s degree in something else, it’s easy to feel like a foreigner. It seems like everybody has read all the same books and you’re not quite part of that conversation. So I started reading and I kept reading.
After graduation, I found a few lists of the top 100 books, the 100 best books, the books everyone should read and so forth. I’ve worked my way through a few of them, starting at 100 on the list and counting my way down to the top. I also started keeping a log of books that I had read. I would include the date that I finished the book, the title and the author’s name.
What are you reading now? What would you recommend?
At any given moment, I probably have at least one fiction book checked out from the library and one nonfiction book. The nonfiction book is Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. It’s awfully timely with its focus on how ego gets in our ways and that those who pursue their goals rather than their egos are the real winners in the long run.
The fiction book is A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi. I’m not even halfway through, but it is the story of an Afghan widow who has been charged with the death of her husband. I like to get as much variety in my reading as I can: not so many white writers, not so many male writers, not so many Westerners, and so on. It may sound a bit compulsive, but every so often I like to look at my log and see how much of a balance I have in my reading so far for the year.
I would recommend that readers have some sort of plan, but to feel free to branch out as needed or wanted. If you consider yourself young and inexperienced, read those books on the top 100 lists and see what the fuss is all about. Otherwise, you can do what I do. I go straight to the new fiction books in the library. They’re stacked alphabetically by author. Start in the A authors and look for the first one in the collection that appeals to you. When you’re done, pick up where you left off and work your way through the alphabet. You should find a few books that are a lot of fun and that your friends haven’t read.