Eric Coates’ summer reads are personal and practical

Story and photo by Judith van Berkom – 

Eric Coates, artistic director of GCTC, moved to Kitchissippi in the fall of 2010. He lives a simple life, no TV or radio, no media at home and as few possessions as possible (that’s not counting his five bikes). An avid cyclist, he bikes for exercise and shopping, walks to work, cross-country skis in winter and sails in the summertime.

Prior to Ottawa, Coates lived in Stratford where he directed the Blyth Festival and worked as an actor. Many actors need a second career to supplement their income, and Coates, whose interests are varied, worked in carpentry and did manual labor, something he loves almost as much as the arts.

“I don’t take it for granted at all that I’m able to make a living in the arts,” he says.

Coates takes the opportunity to catch up on reading in the summer at the remote, Georgian Bay family cottage. Completely isolated, it’s a half hour boat ride from the main land and depends on a wood stove for heat and solar energy for electricity. As a child, Coates read by kerosene lantern. The cottage, owned by his mother of 80, is a family gathering place during the summer months, until Labor Day.

“There’s nothing like it,” Coates says.

Coates’ goal at the moment is to read all the books he has before adding to his collection. His selection for this summer’s reading is a combination of personal, fictional, and practical non-fiction.

First on the list is a collection of 100 short stories called Highway 99: A Literary journey through California’s Great Central Valley. 

“I grew up in Berkley, California, left when I was very young, but every time I go back I feel transported back to my childhood,” says Coates. “The short story is a form I love – even if it’s something I don’t like to read about – I’m not in it for long. This collection offers a huge range of literary voices.”

Next on his list is Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design by Charles Montgomery, a book which was given to him by his younger daughter.

“Since moving here, I’ve become really interested in how the city is handling the congestion problem. I think there are some really creative things happening in Ottawa.  RightBike operated by Causeway is one system that’s coming back. It makes so much sense for people visiting the city,” he says. “I’ve never read much about this before. My daughters are both very socially conscious – it’s neat to have something in common with them.”

Coates’ third choice is Soul Mountain by Chinese author, Gao Xingjian, which won the Nobel prize for literature in 2000. All of Xingjian’s books continue to be banned in China.

“The book is about the author who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He goes on a spiritual journey and cures the cancer.”

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

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