Terry Fallis on the books that made him a feminist

Terry Fallis' fifth and latest book, Poles Apart, explores the hilarious pitfalls of sudden internet fame. Everett Kane struggles with keeping his identity - and gender - a secret when his feminist blog, Eve of Equality, becomes the best thing on the web.

Terry has been a favourite among readers who love to laugh since his first novel, The Best Laid Planswon the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal and Canada Reads in 2011. 

Here are the books that touched Terry's life, shaped his writing and founded his feminism.

MLIB - Terry Fallis.jpeg

pilotjackknight.jpgThe first book that made him cry
I read Pilot Jack Knight by A.M. Anderson and R.E. Johnson when I was about nine years old. It's about an American pilot in the early days of aviation. He was so talented that he was denied the chance to fight overseas in the First World War and stayed stateside to train air force pilots. After the war, he helped start the Air Mail service in the U.S. I cried when his best friend, another pilot, was killed in a plane crash. It was completely unexpected. At my age then, I did not know that words on a page could make me cry. I learned.


The book that made him fall in love with sentences
Thirty years ago, I bought a 1930 Doubleday/Garden City Books edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read it first for the intellectual labyrinth Doyle created in each story. I kept on reading it, over and over again, because of his skill as a prose stylist. I just loved his sentences. Some of them are complex and intricate. Others are short and spare. But almost all of them are beautiful and perfectly suited to the storytelling. Every year I return to Sherlock Holmes and every year I fall headlong into the sentences and the stories.

The book that opened his CanLit floodgates
Beyond high school English class, I was really more of a nonfiction reader until my late twenties. Yes, I know. What a philistine! But it was Fifth Business by Robertson Davies that opened my eyes and mind to CanLit. It was wry, thoughtful, quiet, moving and so exquisitely written. I was hooked. I quickly powered through the rest of the Deptford trilogy and every other one of his novels. It was really the book that returned me to the fiction fold.

The book that made the frozen north cool
After reading Robertson Davies, I went on to read Mordecai Richler. I enjoyed all of his books, but I was particularly smitten with Solomon Gursky Was Here. What a sweeping tale it weaves of rum running and the Arctic, and so much more. Richler's characters are so alive and larger than life. I miss his acerbic and acidic prose.

The book he'd pick as his favourite (if you forced him)
Though I've never met him, John Irving has been a mentor to me, as I'm sure he's been for many writers. If pressed, under threat of death or even modest pain, I'd confess that A Prayer for Owen Meany is perhaps my favourite novel. I know that because I read it once back in the late 1980s, and was so struck by it that I've been scared to read it a second time in case it doesn't live up to the standard of my first reading. One day I'll read it again. Of course, I've read and loved the rest of Irving's canon. His writing taught me many things, but perhaps most importantly, the power of juxtaposing humour and pathos, and sometimes rubbing them right up against one another.

The books that made him want to write a funny novel
About 20 years ago, I tore through the series of books collectively known as The Bandy Papers. There are nine hilarious books in the series written by the late great Canadian writer Donald Jack. The first, Three Cheers for Me, published in 1973, introduced me to the narrator, Bartholomew Bandy, a horse-faced farm boy from Eastern Ontario. He goes off to war, first in the infantry, and then as a fighter pilot. Bandy blunders into and out of trouble, seldom if ever noticing the mayhem he always leaves in his wake. He is funny, fearless, charming, aggravating and often utterly oblivious. That's his real charm and the books' secret humour weapon. I love all nine of these books, three of which won Leacock Medals. It was after reading The Bandy Papers that I decided that one day I might try my hand at writing a funny novel.


Three books that fuelled his feminism
I had a feminist awakening of sorts while a foot soldier in the national student movement in my early twenties. My interest in gender equality stayed with me, and features quite prominently in my new novel, Poles Apart. Michele Landsberg's book, Women and Children First (1983), was one of the first feminist books I read and it rocked me. I remember thinking, perhaps naively, that if every man could read this book, we just might be able to make some progress towards equality. It is persuasive, powerfully written and regrettably now difficult to find. It deserves a wider audience. Rosalind Miles wrote a great book called The Women's History of the World, which lays out how the role of women has been studiously overlooked, perhaps even suppressed, by historians. It effectively sets the record straight and gives women their due in human history. Finally, in 1987, two days before I was married, I stumbled upon and snapped up a first edition of John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women. This early feminist tract, jointly written with his wife, Harriett Taylor Mill, was first published in 1869 yet still speaks eloquently about gender inequality and the great cost of its perpetuation. This treasured slim volume of mine actually makes an appearance in Poles Apart.

wac banner.jpg