Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

To be Continued

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It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.

Ideally, these opening lines to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time would be read with a British accent, to give the book – narrated by a 15-year old boy with autism – its full flavour. After all, the dog in question is named Wellington, a quintessential British name. But my 13-year old daughter doesn’t mind if the story is rendered in an accent far closer to Montreal than Manchester. She’s happy to hear me read the book aloud and I’m happy to oblige.

‘Oblige’ isn’t quite the right way to describe my part in our irregular ritual (an oxymoron I couldn’t resist). I was the one who suggested I read the book aloud to her and I was more than pleased when she…obliged.

There is a real and distinct pleasure in reading a book aloud and sharing it with someone who’s a willing and happy partner. It takes me back to a time when reading to my daughters was a daily, pre-bedtime routine. My wife and I have hung on to several of the books we once shared, as they are more than just Made-in-China souvenirs. They are mementoes from trips we took with our children when they were still young enough to need our company. Books by Ezra Jack Keats, Rosemary Wells, Cynthia Rylant.

There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over.

Long after my older daughter, now 16, bade farewell to the likes of Poppleton the Pig she spent countless hours listening to my wife read each volume of Harry Potter from start to finish. Typically, the books were released in the summer, at the very time we would spend a month at our lakeside country house in the Laurentians. Morning after morning the trials and triumphs of Harry, Hermione and Ron would flow from an upstairs bedroom and fill the house as surely as warm air on a winter’s eve.

We read to the young and the old when they can’t read for themselves. But what about all those decades in between, when it’s understood that reading will be a solitary pursuit? Why wait for things to go full circle?

I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this.

In an essay I wrote for the Books section of The Globe and Mail (in the glory days when the book section stood on its own and wasn’t a caboose on the Focus train), I described the pleasures of audio books and offered the following:

“The need for oral literature that nurtures and sustains us is carried into adulthood. How else to explain the popularity of authors’ readings, from the days when Dickens gave national tours to the faithful who gather at festivals to hear a chapter brought to life by a favourite author. We are children once again, rocked in the berth of a compelling narrative, soothed by a modulated voice. And like children, we listen and wait to be engaged, challenged, surprised, amused, and occasionally ambushed by a moment that drops in our lap and lingers.”

(There’s a word waiting to hatch that describes the act of plagiarizing from oneself. It’s not stealing another person’s words but there’s a whiff of…what? Self-indulgence? Then again, why reinvent the wheel if the one you already invented is still rolling along.)

Unlike an ‘adult book’ written expressly for a particular constituency, Curious Incident is one of those books that straddles two worlds, in that it can be read and savoured by younger and older readers alike. The same could be said for To Kill a Mockingbird and another classic, The Catcher in the Rye. Perhaps that’s why they’re ageless: they are truly age-less, works that appeal to young and older readers alike. And so they endure. Many an adult could be found reading Harry Potter without a younger person in sight. Behold the link that bridges the generation gap: books that feature youthful protagonists.

…My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.

….This is a mystery novel.

To be continued.

Maybe not tonight or tomorrow night. Maybe not for a few nights yet. But my daughter and I will pick up where we left off.

To be continued.

2 comments

Hi, Elana,

I appreciate the depth and details of your comments. The image of you circling your garage twice in order to spend more time with Tolstoy resonated with me. On more than one occasion I've sat in my car in my driveway for long stretches in order to avoid stepping into the house and missing a segment of a radio piece that had captured my imagination.

I look forward to reading your interview with Regine Kurek.

Regards,

Emil

I applaud your enthusiasm for reading aloud to the young and older alike, Emil.
I used to read to my children every night, even when they were old enough to read to themselves. And now, after quite a long hiatus, I'm re-reading Alice in Wonderland to my grown-up daughter, some nights, when she allows me to-- tucked up in her bed. I think she mostly lets me in because she knows just how nourishing this is to me, but then she gets into it even looking over the covers at the pictures, and can't help showing her enjoyment. I read to my mom, too, when we're driving-- I recently read Dai Sijie's semi- autobiographical, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, to her on our way from Portland to Vancouver and back, and she loved it so much she's made it her choice for her next Book Club meeting. I also listen to audio books in the car-- it's a wonderful way to pass a commute. I just finished Indignation by Philip Roth and am on to Anna Karenina. The reading experience is so different from the listening experience-- a good audio performance kindles the imagination, offers much of the pleasure of theatre, and is no strain on the eyes. The other day I found myself circling the block twice, so as not to arrive at my garage before the end of Tolstoy's embedded discussion on art. But now I want to go back to the book itself-- to see the words of the master on the page. I look forward to your continuation...

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Emil Sher

Emil Sher’s works include stage plays, screenplays and radio dramas. His published works include Making Waves, Mourning Dove and Hana’s Suitcase on Stage.

Go to Emil Sher’s Author Page