Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Martyn Burke

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Martyn Burke

Where do you go when you've lost the girl of your dreams? If you're Danny and Hank, the protagonists of author and filmmaker Martyn Burke's new novel Music for Love or War (Cormorant Books), you head straight to a Hollywood psychic. Even though you're supposed to be in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

By turns heartbreaking and comic, Music for Love or War whisks readers from encounters with the Taliban to the pathways of High Park in Toronto, and incorporates characters as diverse as Hugh Hefner and a menacing cardboard cutout of Liberace. Unmissable, witty and timely, the novel is a perfect spring read.

Today we're speaking with Martyn as part of the The WAR Series: Writers As Readers questionnaire, which gives writers an opportunity to talk about the books that shaped them, from first loves to new favourites.

He tells Open Book about the excitement of watching kids learn to love reading, why going back to the book that rocked you as a teen can be dangerous and one very memorable character name.

(Bonus trivia for all you 90s kids out there: Martyn was the writer and director of the Bill Gates/Steve Jobs biopic Pirates of Silicon Valley!)

The WAR Series, Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:

Probably the Classic Comic Book version of The Three Musketeers. As a seven year old it was challenging. But from there I went on to the Hardy Boys and Zane Grey — which is why I was so thrilled a decade or so ago when I saw two little boys lost in Harry Potter. Just creating the habit of reading in a child is priceless.

A book that made me cry:

Cry? — along with every other emotion experienced by a fourteen-year old boy: Wuthering Heights. Poor Heathcliff. He and Catherine were way more romantic than anything I ever saw at that age. (But then years later, I made a mistake: I re-read the book. Don’t do it. With the rare exceptions of truly great books, that novel you loved might just have been an intersection of the movable you and a story that fit the enthrallment needs of a fleeting moment in time. Be satisfied with the memory — usually).

The first adult book I read:

Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. I still like saying the name Diggory Venn the reddleman. If I’m really lucky I’ll create a name like that for one of my characters.

A book that made me laugh out loud:

Easy: Catch 22. But I wonder what the current target TV demographic would make of it.

The book I have re-read many times:

As I mentioned above, re-reading books can be perilous if the original reading was an ephemeral intersection of an evolving personal mind-set and its attraction to what the book gives you. Having said that, in the past year I’ve gone back and re-read The Great Gatsby; L’Etranger and White Tiger. But going back to Hemingway intimidates me.

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

I am humbled daily by the pile of books on my desk, on the dresser, beside my bed. I promise — I’m reading as fast as I can. Really. They may find me one day, buried under a vengeful pile of unread books.

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

Any big, fat travel guide to far-off countries — which an inscription saying everywhere mentioned in this book must be visited.

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

Many. For me, “Influence” is incremental, not some thunderclap: Wuthering Heights; L’Etranger; For Whom The Bell Tolls; St. Urbain’s Horseman; Bonfire Of The Vanities; The Dinner; The Picture Of Dorian Grey; The Painted Bird; Animal Farm; Darkness At Noon — and about a hundred other titles.

The best book I read in the past six months:

I have trouble with “bests” So my answer would be a tie: among A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra; The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell and White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

The book I plan on reading next:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

A possible title for my autobiography:

But I’m Only Just Starting.

Martyn Burke is the author of Laughing War, The Commissar’s Report, Ivory Joe, Tiara, The Shelling of Beverly Hills and The Truth About the Night. He is also a documentary film maker, whose Under Fire: Journalists in Combat won a Peabody Award in 2013. He has written extensively for film and television, most notably as writer of HBO’S timely and biting political satire, The Second Civil War, and writer/director of the Emmy-nominated cable movie Pirates of Silicon Valley.

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