Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with André Alexis

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André Alexis

There are books you read over and over, there are books you press on all your friends, there are books that make you laugh or (don't tell) shed a tear. For authors, those books become a part of their writing lives.

The WAR Series: Writers As Readers gives writers an opportunity to talk about the books that shaped them, from first loves to new favourites.

Today we welcome André Alexis, acclaimed playwright, critic, novelist and short fiction writer. André's new book is the enigmatically titled novel A (BookThug). A tells the story of Alexander Baddeley, a book reviewer obsessed with an elusive poet. As Alexander desperately attempts to orchestrate a meeting between the two, he becomes convinced that only his literary idol can provide the answers he needs. Set in Toronto, the narrative explores the nature of the creative act and inspiration.

André talks to Open Book about the dangers of Spam, laughing with Philip Roth and what's next on his reading list.
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The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

A book that made me cry: The Unnameable by Samuel Beckett.

I still remember the passage, too. It’s when a man returns home to find his entire family dead, poisoned by a tin of Spam, I think it was. I don’t know many people who have finished The Unnameable, but once I started I couldn’t put it down. I was in my early twenties at the time. I must have been going through something traumatic.

The first adult book I read: Maybe Fraulein Spy or Dragon Flame.

I can’t remember which of the Nick Carter, Killmaster Spy series it was. I haven’t seen one around for years, so I don’t know how badly written they are, but it doesn’t really matter. I read them for the bewilderingly brutal sex scenes.

A book that made me laugh out loud: The Great American Novel by Philip Roth.

No novel had made me laugh more, before or since, though I love parts of Three Men in a Boat. The one novel that is supposed to make you laugh but didn’t even make me smile is Lucky Jim. I’ve never finished it. For me, Kingsley Amis is the most tiresome writer of English prose.

The book I have re-read many times: War and Peace, for years my favourite novel. It still is, I guess.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't: There are so many … Middlemarch is the one that has defeated me most often. I’ve tried to read it a dozen times. I’ll likely try a dozen more. I find it too dry, but so many people I admire admire it. Also: The English Patient and In the Skin of a Lion. I’ve never finished either, though I love everything that Ondaatje wrote before them.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could: Would I have to force him to read it? In which case, the answer would be In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust. If it’s because I think he would actually like it, the answer would be The Collected Stories of Ernest Hemingway.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why: There are a lot of them but, to choose the first one that comes to mind: Le Chiendent by Raymond Queneau. It’s, first of all, a novel that made me laugh. Then, it’s a novel whose structure is at times visible, so it gives you a sense that you are reading two things at once, the same way a sonnet or a villanelle give you the sense that two things are happening at once. It’s complex without being infatuated with its own complexity. I feel grateful that I read it and Beckett’s Molloy at the same time. As a result of reading them when I was most impressionable, I’ve always had respect for the comedic.

The best book I read in the past six months: Aesop’s Fables.

The book I plan on reading next: Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, by Geoff Dyer. (It’s a book about Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Stalker.)

A possible title for my autobiography: Meh!


André Alexis is the author of two novels (Childhood and Asylum), two books of short stories (Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa and Beauty and Sadness), a children’s book (Ingrid and the Wolf) and a number of plays (Lambton Kent, Name in Vain, Fidelity). He was a contributing book reviewer for the Globe and Mail, and has worked extensively in radio, having been the host/writer of CBC Radio One’s "Radio Nomad" and CBC Radio 2’s "Skylarking."

For more information about A please visit the BookThug website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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