Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Colette Maitland

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Colette Maitland

If you read literary magazines in Canada, Colette Maitland is likely a familiar name, as her fiction has appeared widely in many of Canada's most acclaimed publications. Now she has followed up her short story collection Keeping the Peace with a new novel, Riel Street (Frontenac House). Riel Street tells the story of the Bouchard family, living on a military base in Kingston during the late 60s and early 70s.

We speak to Colette today as part of the WAR Series: Writers as Readers, where we ask authors about the books that have influenced them over the years. Colette tells us about how the books that make you laugh can also make you cry (and vice versa), the book she would give her seventeen year old self and what's next on her reading list.

The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, by Margaret Sidney. My mother gave it to me for Christmas when I was eight or nine. It was the first book that was mine to keep, and I remember being over the moon about that — about owning my very own book. I can still see its cover — Caribbean blue shot through with strands of gold.

A book that made me cry:
Barney’s Version, by Mordecai Richler. It also made me laugh.

The first adult book I read:
Either The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, thus beginning my love affair with both murder mysteries and literary fiction.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
The Fearsome Particles, by Trevor Cole. It also made me cry.

The book I have re-read many times:
I’m the mother of four grown children and two tiny grand-daughters, so the books I have re-read the most and with feeling are: Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak, followed closely by Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat In The Hat, both by Dr. Seuss, and Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.

I don’t tend to read books over and over, but I have read a handful of books twice: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, The Diviners, by Margaret Laurence, Barney’s Version, by Mordecai Richler, The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, and The Meagre Tarmac, by Clark Blaise. I purchase a lot of books. As I type this piece, I am mindful of the floor-to-ceiling bookcase in my office, which houses roughly 150 books that I have bought, but not yet read.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. I’m sorry. I’ve made one attempt, and may make a second attempt someday when I can face up to the sheer strangeness and volume of the thing. I’m sure it will be good for me.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
Not Wanted on the Voyage, by Timothy Findlay.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
Dance of the Happy Shades, by Alice Munro. I read this collection of stories at university as part of a Can Lit course, and it was the first time that I had read anything that felt as if it could have happened where I live.

The best book I read in the past six months:
The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud. I adored the fury in this book. I’ve never read Claire Messud before, so now I’m excited to read other books by her.

I am currently enrolled in the Optional Residency MFA program at UBC. Last year I took my very first creative non-fiction course and I read a lot of creative non-fiction. My favourite non-fiction book of the past six months is The Best American Essays 2013, edited by Cheryl Strayed.

The book I plan on reading next:
All Saints, by K.D. Miller. It is her most recent collection of short stories. Here are the titles of her other short story collections, which I have really enjoyed: A Litany in Time of Plague, Give Me Your Answer; and also her novel, Brown Dwarf.

A possible title for my autobiography:
Burnt Toast and Other Offerings.


Colette Maitland has published in The Antigonish Review, Pottersfield Portfolio, Descant, Room of One’s Own, The Nashwaak Review, Wascana Review, The Prairie Journal, Freefall, The Puritan, The Fiddlehead, Event and frequently in The New Quarterly. She placed first in The Kingston Literary Awards, The WFNB Literary Competition and The CAA Niagara Branch “Ten Stories High” Short Story Competition. She was a finalist for the Writers’ Union of Canada Postcard Story Contest; her story “Keeping the Peace” appeared in Best Canadian Stories 11. Keeping the Peace, a collection of short stories published by Biblioasis, was long-listed for the 2013 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

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