Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Marissa Stapley

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Marissa Stapley

With the launch of Mating for Life (Simon & Schuster Canada), Marissa Stapley has arrived on the CanLit scene in a serious way. This witty, incisive and emotionally complex debut tells story of a faded folk singer and her adult daughters as they navigate relationships with one another, the men in their lives, their children and themselves.

To mark the publication of Mating for Life, we're talking to Marissa about her favourite books, from first loves to literary influences.

Read on to hear from Marissa about the iconic CanLit title she first loved, encouraging her teenage self and an excellent title suggestion from grandma.

You can catch Marissa in person at the launch for Mating for Life at Propeller in Toronto (50 Wade Avenue) on June 26, 2014 at 6:00p.m.

The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
Anne of Green Gables. I still have my copy, a first Canadian edition I got from my great aunt’s book shelf and defaced by writing: “December 1985. This book belongs to Marissa Stapley, 39 Alderwood Street. Please return if found. This book means alot [sic] to me.” (I do wish I could say that at seven-years-old, I knew that “a lot” was not one word, but I didn’t.)

The first adult book I read:
A Prayer for Owen Meany. I borrowed this from my dad when I was twelve. I didn’t fully absorb it at the time, but in some ways, I think it helped me understand the world better, or at least the complexities of human relationships and the power of childhood memories. I didn’t deface this one; I had to buy my own copy later in life.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry made me laugh a lot. I thought Ted was hilarious, as cantankerous and lecherous as he was. There was also a book published in 2001 called Lucy Talk by Fiona Walker, written all in emails (back when email was still a bit of a novel thing), electronic journals, lists, and love letters that Lucy, who lived with a group of girls in rural England, wrote to her disinterested boyfriend while he was sleeping, then threw away before he could see them. After the girls would go out to the pub, they’d post “top ten lists” on the fridge of the funniest things that were said or done the night before. (That’s actually a very entertaining thing to do, and I still do it with my friends, then think of that book and laugh out loud.)

The book I have re-read many times:
I used to reread books more, but I don’t now because I’m afraid there won’t be enough time in my life to read all the books I want to read, let alone the ones I already have. (There’s always a stack of unread books on my bedside table at least six or seven deep.) But when I was in my twenties, I read Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins at least three times, and I reread it again recently to see what I loved so much about it. Everything, it turns out! But especially the beginning, all that stuff about beets. “The beet was Rasputin's favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.” Since reading that book, I’ve always been sort of reverent about beets.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Those six or seven books that are sitting on my end table! But actually, I have never felt that I “should” read a book. Books aren’t broccoli, and I don’t agree with those “books everyone should read” lists. I think reading is personal (although it’s nice to talk about a book you love with someone who loves it, too), and that you should read what attracts you, not what might make you look smarter to other people. Then again, I do wish, just a little bit, that I was the sort of person who was attracted to books like A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking, instead of, for example, Lucy Talk. (See above.)

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
Perhaps this is completely narcissistic, but I would give my seventeen-year-old self my book, and I would say to her, “Look: don’t worry. It all works out. You get to be a writer”

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
Anne of Green Gables made me want to write. After reading it, I got one of those Anne of Green Gables tie-in journals and recorded all manner of sappy and overblown things about the way snow looked on evergreens or the way tulips bent (drowsily, sleepily, tiredly, dejectedly) in the breeze. I also noted that the first paragraph of Anne was 148 words long — and was actually a single sentence. It’s still one of the best sentences I have ever read, and it inspired a lifelong love of run-ons, for better or for worse.

These days, I’m probably more influenced by writers like Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood — not that I imagine I could ever be remotely as talented or masterful, but it’s nice to have something to chase and also, to have writers to reach for when you simply want to be awestruck. (There are only two more collections of Munro’s stories I have yet to read, and I’m saving them for a dull moment.)

The best book I read in the past six months:
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. In the book I’m writing now, one of the characters loses a spouse. I had completed a first draft when I read Didion’s book. It made me realize I hadn’t scratched the surface, not even close. She goes right down into it, the reality of grief, the idea that you can lose one person and the entire world can seem empty. It’s incredible and painful.

A possible title for my autobiography:
I have no idea, but I have a box in my office right now that contains my paternal grandmother’s unfinished memoirs — she was also a writer. She called them, A Vibrant Life Remembered. I think that’s a nice title.


Marissa Stapley is a writer and former magazine editor who contributes to ELLE, the Globe and Mail and The National Post, among others. She also teaches writing at the University of Toronto and editing at Centennial College. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two young children.

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