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.
Toronto-born C.C. Humphreys is the author of 16 books, which have spanned time and worlds, from his French Executioner series to his Unicorn-Dragon novels for young adults. His latest is Chasing the Wind, where he takes us to Europe in 1936, when a gunrunning heroine pilot finds adventure in the historical thick of Nazi Germany and Spain’s descent into civil war. Raised in Britain and now based on Salt Spring Island, B.C., here are Humphreys' most memorable books in his own words.
My first thought when considering this assignment was: One favourite book for each phase of life? One? When there are oh-so-many that affected me? To choose but one will be to spurn all others. Like ranking the loves of your life! (Though the present love is obviously the ultimate … uh, hello, darling!)
So you may hear me wail as I select. And maybe call the love’s – sorry, the book’s – name as I pass them by.
What did you read as a kid?
Norwegian Folk Tales, by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe, is what my Norwegian mother read to me while I studied the pictures – those terrifying pictures of trolls and troll maidens, the latter beautiful girls … who concealed a cow’s tail beneath their dress.
(For years I feared what would emerge from beneath a girl’s dress. Thankfully, never that. Well, maybe once, though that might have been the aquavit).
Wonderful stories, magical yet down-to-earth too – a little like Norwegians, now I come to think about it. The story of the three giant trolls who shared one eye, passing it between them, has never left me.
What did you read in high school?
I go through periodic bursts of righteous anger. I read The Grapes of Wrath when I was 15.
Somehow I bent the rather rigid educational system of my London private school to my will and got them to allow me to read it again, for O Level English.
The chapters on Tom Joad and family, alternating with the chapters of John Steinbeck’s evisceration of an uncaring society and political elites destroying a people and a land for profit was breathtaking.
I should read it again, now, given what’s happening.
What did you read in university?
Oh so many! How can I leave out The Magus, On the Road, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning?
Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins’ philosophical love comedy was, like those books, a wanderer’s tale and jibed with my own stumbling attempts at relationship. The thesis was “how to make love stay.” Its last immortal line was (spoiler alert, plus written with a pen because his Smith-Corona couldn’t handle the truth): “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Both thesis and line resonated.
I gave copies to everyone. But it is a novel for one’s confused 20s. I tried to reread in my confused 50s and couldn’t see the point.
What have you read as an adult?
(Oh so many etc. But I am running out of time!) Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay, is the book that made me go: “If I ever live my dream and become a novelist, this is the type of book I will write.”
Epic fantasy, passionate, funny, a great cast and a world beautifully realized, with magic in the exact right proportion to the prosaic, I loved it. I embarrassed myself when I finished it on a transatlantic flight and wept six times in the final 50 pages.
I shared a stage with Guy last year at When Words Collide in Calgary and went all fanboy on him. He smiled and bought me whisky. I am writing fantasy next and Tigana is still the model.
What are you reading right now?
Of all the oh-so-manys, this category is the worst!
I’ve discovered Daphne du Maurier (late to the game, but oh … my … god!), Anne Patchett and Kate Atkinson; reread Hemingway and Chandler.
But Ronald Wright’s A Scientific Romance haunts me. A terrifying vision of the future that our current environmental negligence is galloping us toward, wrapped up in a Wellsian time travel story told with humour and pathos.
Shades of Steinbeck, reminiscent of Kay, with the odd one-eyed troll. So well done.