Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Jerry Levy

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Jerry Levy

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 Jerry Levy, the author of short fiction collection Urban Legend: Stories (forthcoming from Thistledown Press), in which readers will find protagonists who embark on bizarre and fascinating quests that ultimately lead them astray. Whether erecting a golem in the image of a deceased loved one, posing as a patient with a debilitating illness or leaving a secure job and a long-time spouse to live the bohemian life in Paris, these characters are outsiders and oddballs who come alive on the page with wit and emotion.

Read on to hear from Jerry about how a book can make you cry and fill you with hope, road trips with Miriam Toews and re-reading Kafka.

The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.

A book that made me cry:
Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankel, a psychiatrist, was interned at Auschwitz. He lost his wife and family. He observed that certain prisoners survived the camp while facing greater hardships than some who died. He concluded that the way they did it was to imagine a future, to know that their lives had ultimate meaning; those tenets allowed them to not be overwhelmed with despair. Losing faith in the future equated to death.

Reading about the experiences in the concentration camp made me cry. And yet at the same time the book was so uplifting.

The first adult book I read:
All of the Hardy Boy series. Even though Joe and Frank Hardy never aged from book to book (unlike the characters in the Harry Potter series), it didn’t matter; I thought those guys were brilliant sleuths! Those hardcover blue books occupied a prominent place on my bookshelf for many years.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
Miriam Toew’s The Flying Troutmans. I’m a little biased when it comes to Toews because I so liked her book A Complicated Kindness. Still, the Troutmans novel is so clever that it stands on its own as a wonderful read. It’s a road trip taken by a bunch of oddball characters, including two kids. Those children are not only precocious, but equally scared, and brave, broken, yet determined. I think Toews has this amazing ability to suss out the weirdness in people, similar to Barbara Gowdy. Not only that but she has the kids’ lingo down to a fine science. The book made me laugh uproariously but at the same time, I found myself really rooting for this collection of misfits.

The book I have re-read many times:
Can I pick two? Well, they were both written by the same author — Franz Kafka. I have re-read The Castle and The Trial many times. These novels imprinted themselves on my brain and although I thought I would eventually outgrow them, I never have. I think it’s because I don’t quite understand them, they’re open to many interpretations (such as bureaucracy run amok, or man’s inability to know God…), and it just seems as though they take place in some alternate reality, where nothing is as it should be, where nothing makes sense. Kind of like the Bizarro World in Superman comics where the opposite of what takes place on Earth unfolds.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Shakespeare’s works.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
Probably Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I’d hand it over and say: “You may never write as magnificently as this but see what it can teach you. And don’t worry, one day you’ll be a pretty good writer in your own right.”

The best book I read in the past six months:
Zoe Heller’s The Believers. If you're looking for likeable characters, this book isn't for you. In fact, the Audrey character is probably one of the most despicable personalities in modern-day fiction. But hey, Zoe Heller can never be accused of necessarily writing likeable characters, which is fine. The plot is intriguing — a radical N.Y. lawyer falls into a coma and his family has to learn how to cope without him. There are many subplots (for instance, one of the daughters, an avowed atheist, turning Jewish Orthodox). It's all about a dysfunctional family and the personal and oftentimes gut-wrenching journey of each of its members.

The book I plan on reading next:
Barbara Lambert’s The Whirling Girl. Barbara wrote a wonderful blurb for my book and so I’ve come to know her personally. The Whirling Girl has gotten very good reviews. It centres on a woman who inherits her uncle’s property in Tuscany and then falls into a world of intrigue.

A possible title for my autobiography:
What wings? I have imagination to soar.

Jerry Levy's short stories have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies throughout Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., including The Nashwaak Review, The Flaneur, Lowestoft Chronicle, Pilot Pocket Book, amongst many others. He has a B.Comm. degree from Concordia University in Montreal and a T.E.S. L. (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate from C.C.L.C.S. (Canadian Co-operative for Language and Cultural studies) in Toronto. Of his varied interests, he has practiced Hatha yoga for many years, studied acupuncture and performed with a number of percussion music groups. He lives in Toronto, Ontario. Urban Legend: Stories is his first book.

For more information about Urban Legend please visit the Thistledown website.

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

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