6 famous Canadians on the book that changed their lives
For World Book Day, Lainey Lui, Lawrence Hill and other celebs gave us a peek at their bookshelves
By Laura Hensley
“A book that’s affected me is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is classified as young adult (YA) fiction. The most important reason I’m putting The Hate U Give out there is because it’s an outstanding, well-written achievement in literature. But I am also choosing a YA book because this genre does not get the respect that it deserves. I want to fight the assumption that YA is just for young people; no matter what age you are, YA is for you.
I read The Hate U Give when it came out in 2017. The book is written from the perspective of Starr, a young Black teenager who has to navigate life after a good friend is shot by police. In this story, the author [unpacks] police brutality, racism, code-switching and pop culture all at the same time. This book is so important because literature has not—up until quite recently—represented all the different kinds of voices and people that Thomas did in this book. The fact that Thomas was able to publish this book, and for it to become so popular, is a radical thing. But the goal is for it to not be radical. The goal is that one day, these stories will be as commonplace as any other stories.
I’m hesitant to say that my struggle growing up was similar to a young Black girl’s experience in America—it’s not. But I certainly relate to code-switching. As a woman of colour, I can relate to having to put on one identity when I am out in white spaces, and having an identity that’s true to me.” — Lainey Lui, co-host of CTV’s The Social, etalk reporter, and head gossiphound at celebrity gossip blog, LaineyGossip.com
“A book that I return to annually is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I first encountered this book in my 20s when reading some other authors from the Harlem Renaissance; Neale was always referenced, as she was not only an amazing author, but quite a character as well.
This book is written in the southern vernacular, but there is this lovely cadence and rhythm once you get going. It’s a story about a strong woman’s journey through three very different relationships exploring love, jealousy, evaluating her self-worth, acceptance, strength and being different.
This book was life-changing for me and is one I regularly return to. Most humans are seeking connections, companionship, and acceptance of who and what we are, and Janie [the book’s main character] is a guide. Each time I read this book, I find strength to celebrate my uniqueness—unapologetically.” — Maxine Bailey, vice-president of advancement at TIFF
In the most militant phase of his life, Malcolm X believed that every white person was the devil incarnate. I knew this made no sense, as my own mother was white and she was no devil. But the story of his youth, his imprisonment, his rise and fall in the Nation of Islam and his unflinching devotion to freedom and equality for African Americans was so powerful and gripping that I had to struggle with his hateful message about white people, chew it over and spit it out.
As I continued to read the book, I was vastly relieved to discover that he abandoned that way of thinking, and embraced a multiracial approach, even in the Islamic faith, prior to his assassination.”
“When I was 19, I read Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald and it has stuck with me since. At the time I first read it, I didn’t know why [it was so powerful], but I re-read it recently and I think it is because it documents the lives of a family of mainly women. Each woman is given such a rich life full of flaws and struggle—nothing is sugarcoated. I love when art gives me insight into something I’m unfamiliar with, and Fall on Your Knees did just that. It opened my eyes to issues with race, sexuality, gender and sacrifice.
Reading is a powerful medium. It has the power to immerse you in an entirely different world, and take you into the mind of someone you may never have had the opportunity to meet or talk to otherwise. In that way, it has the ability to create an understanding between different groups and people.”
“I didn’t experience much teenage angst or ennui growing up. But boy oh boy did I make up for it during my early twenties when I was in grad school. Reading J.D. Salinger’s Frannyand Zooey acted as both a salve and a fuel for my disillusionment with academia and, you know, with my struggle to answer the Big Question: What does it all mean, Jess?
In the book, Franny Glass experiences an existential meltdown at college, and goes home to her family’s Upper East Side apartment in New York. So does her brother, Zooey, in the hopes of soothing his sister and, in many ways, to pick up the mantle of their older [deceased] brother, the enigmatic Seymour, who was largely responsible for his six siblings’ spiritual education.
I cringe when I think of my younger self carrying around my worn-out paperback copy, which was originally my dad’s, the same way that Franny clutched her own spiritual text that she hoped held the answers to satisfy her quest for enlightenment. Looking at my copy now, it’s filled with notations and exclamation marks that I’ve made over the years in the margins about Zen Buddhism, Epictetus, ego, selfishness, and, generally, about how beautifully (and concisely!) Salinger wrote about, say, what the Glass siblings could always count on finding in their mother Bessie’s robe pocket.
The book didn’t answer the Big Question, but it illuminated the fact that I wasn’t the only one looking for it. The search for a modicum of satisfaction in this short life has been shared by humankind for millennia. And in that, I found comfort.”
“It’s hard to pick just one book, but one that stands out is Michele Landsberg’s Women And Children First. I struggle because it’s such an old book now, and parts of it are dated, but it did help me formulate my thoughts around my feminism. I read it in the early ’90s, when I was around 20.
There were so many things about Michele’s book—she was so unapologetic about her advocacy around women’s equality, and making sure that if women were empowered economically, they were given opportunities to participate in the workplace by ensuring that there was proper training, childcare and pay equity, and that gender discrimination was not going to prohibit women from advancing, either.
[The book] was going to empower the next generation, and to me, that’s what was so fascinating. I was watching my own mother struggle with her experiences as a working-class immigrant woman, and the impact it had on her children because she was not provided the same opportunities by conventional standards, such as economic wealth, career advancement and higher post- secondary education. That’s why it was such a powerful book for me: it was able to help explain my own life in so many ways, as a working-class immigrant child of parents who were struggling.”