Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Jay MillAr

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Jay MillAr

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 author and publisher Jay MillAr, who is — together with his wife, Hazel Millar — the creative mind behind innovative publisher BookThug.

Most recently though, Jay has donned his writer cap as the author of Timely Irreverence (Nightwood Editions). The witty, irreverent poems in the collection have been widely praised for their dark comedy and called "sardonic yet insightful".

Read on to hear from Jay about the lasting impact of how-to books, what Ted Berrigan and Judy Blume have in common and following the literary carrot.

The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:

Because my parents were awesome, we made weekly trips to the Northridge Public Library in London, Ontario. I loved those trips and I remember a particular section that was near the floor that I visited each week that had “how to books” — camp craft, woodworking, making gadgets out of recycled household things. I coveted these books, which I took out religiously and spent many hours pouring through. Sure, I suppose I read Dr. Seuss and Disney books and other little kid stuff when I was little, but these were the first books I remember finding on my own and reading for my self.

A book that made me cry:

There are two in particular, also books that I read when I was very young, grade 4 or 5: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson and Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. I don’t know why I picked up either of the books, but I picked them off the shelves in my public school library and read them. Both of them were books that dealt with death in fairly straight up ways, the first about the death of a friend, the second the death of a father. Both books affected me greatly and I still think about them to this day — the weeping I experienced as a child has since transformed into a larger contemplative sadness, but it is still there. As an adult (well, I was about 23) I had a similar experience while reading Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets and listening to Eric Satie. When I got to Sonnet XXXVII the whole experience, that poem, the music, the sadness of what I knew about Berrigan’s death, was overwhelming.

The first adult book I read:

I must gave been in grade one. Having a father who worked as a professor of Zoology was great — for show and tell I could bring in items dad would let me pick out from the “museum” at the university — a room full of props used in lectures. So while other kids brought in toys or stuffed animals, I would bring in a sperm whale eye in a jar, or a stuffed black bear cub. And so I could give a lecture on whatever I’d brought, I made Dad also take me to the university library so I could take out books for research. I remember struggling to read a scientific book on the subject of tigers — I must have been hopeful there would be a tiger in the museum. There wasn’t.

A book that made me laugh out loud:

I was 19 years old. I was on a plane flying back to Ontario from Alberta where I had been working for the summer in the Kaninaskis Valley. I was reading Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., which is a very silly book. I was also drinking the free beer that airlines supplied before air travel went to the birds. At a high altitude drinking free cans of Canadian I was feeling sillier than usual. The combination of age, beer, and book was ridiculous, and I couldn’t contain myself. Sitting all around me on the plane was a girl’s tennis team, and they kept staring at me each time I burst out laughing.

The book I have re-read many times:

None. Unless you count the how-to books I read many times as a child. I have a habit of continually moving forward, following some carrot I can’t define.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:

Not sure. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, probably because of the reason mentioned above. Maybe something by Sheila Heti?

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:

I am terrible at recommending books, because all I ever do is recommend the book I just read for some reason or another. This also makes it difficult to recommend anything to a younger self. All I would do (at least today) is recommend I Am A Japanese Writer by Dany Laferrière. Thankfully my fifteen-year-old keeps picking up books that I’m reading and asking, “can I read this when you are done?” Even if it is something by say, Yasunari Kawabata or Patti Smith or Tao Lin or Colson Whitehead or Dany Laferrière. When he does read one of the books I’ve read, I feel as though this qualifies to answer your question, as our children are, genetically speaking, younger versions of our selves.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:

Probably Demon Pond by Christopher Dewdney, because after reading and being swept away by the incredible work that is collected in his selected volume titled Predators of the Adoration (1983) I would never want to publish a collection of poems that bad.

The best book I read in the past six months:

Dany Laferrière’s I Am A Japanese Writer, as translated by David Homel. I was browsing a branch of the Toronto Public Library, as I am wont to do from time to time, wondering what I might find. I’d been reading a lot of contemporary American fiction for some reason, I think to hone up on what sort of annoying things are going on in the genre, so I was looking for a Canadian novel to read. I’d never read Laferrière before for some reason, and the bright colours on the spine attracted me (the cover is horrible though, just so you know). There is a blurb on the back by Sheila Heti, also appearing in bright colours, and since she is one of the most influential women writers of our generation I decided to be influenced by her. After reading some of the book I wondered if Shelia had actually read it, because her blurb seemed to mention something that is said in the first chapter and then says something rather blurby about Laferrière that doesn’t say anything about the book. After I finished the book I realized it is ok, because no one has read it, not Sheila Heti, not even myself. David Homel didn’t even translate it into English. Dany Laferrière never wrote a book called I Am A Japanese Writer, and that is the genius of this particular novel.

The book I plan on reading next:

Knock ‘em Dead Resumes: How to Write a Killer Resume That Gets You Job Interviews.

A possible title for my autobiography:

Against Instant Gratification: The Life & Times of Jay MillAr.

Jay MillAr is a writer, editor, publisher, bookseller and environmental research assistant. He is the author of The Ghosts of Jay MillAr (Coach House, 2000), and Mycological Studies (Coach House, 2002), which was shortlisted for the ReLit Poetry Prize. He publishes chapbooks under the imprint BookThug and distributes these titles through Apollinaire’s Bookshoppe — his “imaginary bookstore specializing in publications that no one wants to buy.” He lives in Toronto with his wife, Hazel, and their sons, Reid and Cole.

For more information about Timely Irreverence please visit the Nightwood Editions website.

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

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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