In All Ages, Globe Books asks authors to dig deep for memorable books that span their lifetime, from childhood to what’s on their reading list right now.
Former journalist and filmmaker Kurt Palka has just published his seventh novel.
Previously, he had written Clara, a finalist for the Hammett Prize, and the bestselling The Piano Maker. His latest, The Hour of the Fox (McClelland & Stewart), spans Toronto to the East Coast to Paris in telling the story of Margaret Bradley, a senior law associate whose life is upended by the sudden death of a son. The way forward for a grieving mother becomes clearer when she rushes to support a friend whose son is questioned in connection with a violent crime.
These are the books that have made a mark on Palka the reader.
What did you read as a kid?
When I was maybe three or four, an aunt in Britain sent me a copy of Curious George and somehow that willful and irrepressible little monkey not only helped me learn to read, but he also taught me that a bit of wildness and defiance might lead to interesting things. I had that book for years and years, but somehow lost it during my most recent few moves.
What did you read in grade school?
In my senior high-school days in Europe, Kafka, Sartre and Dostoevsky were the stars.
To me the most interesting book was Sartre’s La Nausée, so bold and dangerous, stripped bare like a raw wire carrying current; like a writer’s workshop trying on ideas and discarding some and developing variations.
In the story the main character refuses to live an “ordinary” life and finally comes face to face with the hopelessness within. He does not know if he’ll be able to overcome it and carry on.
What did you read during college?
In my college years, or just a little thereafter, I discovered Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and that’s one truly influential book I still own.
To me, it’s an introduction not so much of Zen, but of baseline Existentialism to North American culture. Of the secret pleasure of accepting responsibility at least for oneself, and of taking the trouble to do something really well. In one scene the narrator describes a motorcycle mechanic using an adjustable wrench rather than a fixed one on a good bolt head and in the process rounding and wrecking the hex corners.
That book has never gone out of style; just the other day in a Toronto Starbucks I saw a young man reading it and sipping his coffee and never looking away from the page.
What have you read as an adult?
At some point I came across Jim Harrison’s beautiful story The Woman Lit by Fireflies. It is about a woman who has broken free of her controlling husband and walked away. Now she sits in the bush and spends the night remembering and wondering, and planning how to carry on.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I am re-reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It is the post-apocalyptic story of a father and son walking through depopulated and ruined America toward the vague promise of the coast. It’s about “the frailty of everything revealed at last.” A book about love and courage if there ever was one.