Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

on making sausages

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on making sausages

June is the month of graduation. On campus, SFU students seem happier, despite impending midterms. Relatives in high heels are carrying peonies. All parking lots are full.

As I pass by the Convocation Mall this morning, the weeping of bagpipes is suddenly cut off. The crowd hushes. Someone is going to make a speech.

And maybe because I’ve been reading Harry Potter to my daughter (we’re on book 5), I start thinking about the commencement speech J.K. Rowling gave at Harvard on June 5, 2008.

A terrific speech. J.K. Rowling knows how to make a rhetorical impact, and she does it right from the start.

Begin with a joke. Say something unexpected. Then move into the serious stuff. Develop your idea. Expand on it. Illustrate with examples from your own life. Tell a story or share an anecdote. And mind your paragraphs.

I admire J. K. Rowling’s work greatly. My father and I have arguments about it. He doubts she will be read in 200 years because the canon of literature, according to him, will run out of rooms.

But as I look at my students who have been brought up reading Harry Potter, I’m sure he’s mistaken about that. I look at an entire generation of future leaders who have “Platform 9¾” and the Hogwarts’ Crest tattooed on their skin, and I know he’s wrong.

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Besides! I applaud anyone who can make a 6-year-old put away her iPad to read a whole chapter book about magic and then, magically, insist upon reading six more!

I asked my daughter the other morning why she liked Harry Potter books so much. She looked at me with the same disbelieving expression my grandmother had looked at me when I was a kid and said, “Because they are interesting to read.”

“And,” she added, after a moment’s reflection, “because I care about what happens to Hermione.”

Now, there, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the only magic you’ll ever need to write decent books.

“That’s perfect,” I said to my daughter and thought again of my grandmother, who used to spin tall tales. She called her inventions “the making of sausage” and justified herself in this way:

“My budget may be only 5 rubles, but the sausages I make are very good. I start with cheap meat, season it to my liking, and stuff it into a tube to make a delicious thing.”

Ah! The making of sausages. How could I forget?

My grandmother, like J. K. Rowling, was a master sausage-maker. When I was small, I often stayed with her. Back then, our trips to the grocery store for a bundle of carrots could easily turn into a journey to Mars. One summer night, I remember, a family of dwarf crocodiles apparently moved in under her bed. And in winter, condensed milk powder from Canada was falling from the sky instead of snow.

When I got older, I asked my grandmother why she made stuff up all the time.

She looked at me with the same expression my daughter would look at me with twenty years later and said, “Because life is more interesting that way.”

She went on, “But mostly, I worried about my inability to explain the world to you. So I used my imagination to make you care about the goodness in it a little bit more.”

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.

Irina Kovalyova

Irina Kovalyova has a Master’s degree in Chemistry from Brown University, a doctoral degree in Microbiology from Queen’s University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University. She has previously interned for NASA and worked for two years as a forensic analyst in New York City. She was born in Russia and currently lives in Vancouver.

You can contact Irina throughout the month of June at writer@openbooktoronto.com

Go to Irina Kovalyova’s Author Page