Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

COMFORT READING

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There is comfort in reading. Or there can be. Sometimes you just want to get lost in a book. Other times, it’s comforting to recognize similarities between yourself and the characters. I look for the similarities. It’s a thing I do, like eating comfort food. Cake, for instance.

This month I took on the task of reading all the 2010 Giller-short-listed books. I’d held off on Sarah Selecky’s This Cake Is For The Party, from Thomas Allen, thinking it would be fun to keep till the end. Then I took a longer look at the cake platter on the cover: it was shattered. Maybe this wasn’t going to be such a funny book after all. Was it an ironic shattering? “Sorry about your platter—yuck, yuck—but it’s time you got a new one.” Or perhaps it was a slapstick shattering: “Whoops! Butterfingers! Ho-ho!” Smash!

In fact, Selecky’s book is often humorous, but it’s not actually comic. It deals with deeper issues, as well as some rather mundane ones. Kind of like life. For that reason, I decided to go with the “similarities” thing. Here are a few of the things I discovered I have in common with Selecky’s characters.

I have:

1. Taken the bus from Toronto (the “Big Smoke”) to Sudbury (the “Big Nickel”) as a teenager, while dreaming about living in Toronto one day. (That came true, eventually.)
2. Spent money on the more expensive Magic Oven pizzas over the usual brands because they are healthier (“Otherwise it would just be junk food,” says Carolyn in How Healthy Are you?) and then worried about how much money I’ve actually spent on antioxidant pizza.
3. Tried Bach Flower Remedies: Mustard for gloominess and Agrimony for stress.
4. Kissed a stranger on a bus. I will decline to say how old I was, or what sex the other person was, but I will tell you that a lot of drinking goes on at the back of those busses, among other things. Fortunately, though, it wasn’t the same bus I took from Toronto to Sudbury. Hmm…I wrote “fortunately.” I don’t know why. Nevertheless, I will let it stand.
5. Read the Peterborough Examiner. In Peterborough. At my parents’ house, no less. It was educational in parts.
6. Read The Power of Now. In Toronto. At my house. It was enlightening.
7. Attended an authors’ dinner hosted by the library. The only difference between my dinner and the dinner Selecky’s characters attend is that I was the featured author at mine. The author in Selecky’s story plays with historical fiction. I played with my food.

I felt at this point that I was doing pretty well on the comfort level. Then I started running into the have-nots. I have not ever, for instance, been involved in a pyramid scheme. Nor have I ever been a pharmaceutical test subject, for money or otherwise, and I have also not tried on a wedding dress and waited for my bridesmaid to cry so that I would know it was the “right” dress for me. I have not been on anti-depressants. I have Bach’s Mustard remedy for that.

I read on. Suddenly, we were back on the “haves” scale again. Or the “nearly haves.” In this case, the father of one of the characters worked at Island Farms Dairy. It was a sort of Eureka! moment combined with a weirdly obscure sense of déja vu. Not many people in Ontario will know what the IFD is, but it so happens I had a cousin who worked at Island Farms Dairy on Vancouver Island for ten years. Moo!

Then, a few pages over, I came across a reference to “Polish vodka” in the same story as the name “Trevor.” Paranoia flash! How did Selecky know about that? Oh, of course! I began to imagine the scenario: in real life, Selecky’s father, who once worked at Island Farms Dairy, would have known my cousin Judy, who, being a chatty sort, would have told him about the…but wait! That was just paranoia talking.

It wasn’t possible, was it? It’s just a book, isn’t it? Relax, I told myself. They’ll never know. That story is definitely not for parties.

Whew! Sometimes reading can be a little too close for comfort.

1 comment

I enjoyed reading this very much. One of the reading sub- reading skills teachers develop among young
readers is how to make " connection" to the text and relating to characters in the story. I remember reading Donna Tartt's "Secret History" and finding similarity with the main character - studying language, being a loner, etc. I also was able to list some "haves" in reading Sidney Poiter's "Measure of a Man", one of which is the adventures and struggles of being in a new country.

Thanks Jeff for sharing.

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Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round is an award-winning writer and director. His most recent novel is The Honey Locust.

Go to Jeffrey Round’s Author Page