My Life in Books

3 books that inspire Anne Michaels

The accomplished poet and novelist cites the works that influenced her literary life.
Anne Michaels is a successful poet and novelist. (Marzena Pogorzaly)

Anne Michaels is one of Canada's most accomplished writers. She is writer of the Giller Prize-nominated The Winter Vault, the 1986 Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Americas winner The Weight of Oranges and also Fugitive Pieces, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 1997.

Michaels' most recent poetry collection is All We Saw. Below, the prolific writer shares three books that have shaped her life and career.

King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear is the classic tragedy written by William Shakespeare. (Penguin/Wikimedia Commons)

"I first read King Lear when I was 15 and was immensely moved by the play's painful wisdom: specifically the recognition that, while evil is more powerful in direct confrontation, good endures. The notion that good endures while evil consumes itself, as well as the moment when Lear 'chooses' faith over despair (imagining his daughter Cordelia is still alive) are two ideas that held my attention for a long time.

"I realized that the horrors of history have arcs of consequence that are difficult to see because they unfold over generations: that restoration is often beyond the timeframe of a single life. At 15, I had a literary crush on the character of Kent, whose goodness is both humble and heroic, and forges its own loyalties."

The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler was a Hungarian-British author and journalist. (Penguin/Wikimedia Commons )

"When I was 18, I read Koestler's account of three astronomers — Copernicus, Tycho Brahe and Kepler. It was my first encounter with Kepler, whose inner complexity fascinated me. He was a mathematician of immaculate, obsessive accuracy and yet had an equally compelling desire to 'prove' his faith true.  

"How he reconciled his contradictions seemed to me almost heartbreakingly perceptive — including an unwieldy theory of the structure of the universe involving perfect solids, and the brilliantly incisive realization that orbits are elliptical and not perfect circles, an insight that solved an extremely messy mathematical system with a single spectacularly simple solution. A few years later I wrote about Kepler and finally understood: 'it's the believer/who keeps looking for proof.'"

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

The classic Bildungsroman novel by Charlotte Brontë explores classism, sexuality, religion, and proto-feminism. (Vintage/Wikimedia Commons)

"Some books, if we are lucky, find us at the perfect time. I read Jane Eyre when I was 12 or 13 and I was exactly the right age to appreciate the mysterious and utterly satisfying moment when Jane in her distress imagines hearing Rochester's voice calling to her from hundreds of miles away. That romantic notion remains just as vivid to me today: love defies distance. Only now I would say: love defies death."

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