Books·My Life in Books

4 books that made Tom Power, host of CBC Radio's Q, the interviewer he is today

The Newfoundland-born musician and radio host spoke to CBC Books about the books that inspired his life's work.
Head shot of Q host Tom Power.
Q host Tom Power. (CBC)

Tom Power is a Newfoundland-born musician and the host of the CBC Radio show Q.

In 2008, at 21 years old, he joined CBC as the host of the folk music show Deep Roots, making him the youngest host of a national radio show since Peter Jennings. He went on to host the national music show Radio 2 Morning on CBC and since 2016, has hosted Q.

At Qhe uses his signature Newfoundland charm and an endless enthusiasm about art to interview some of the world's most well-known artists, including Denzel Washington, Bruce Springsteen, Janelle Monae, Sam Smith and Shania Twain.

CBC Books caught up with Power during another exciting time for the show: Q is undergoing a revamp.

Beginning Jan. 30, Q is moving to an hour-long format to focus on the intimate, in-depth conversations the show is known for. 

To celebrate, Power spoke to CBC Books about four books that made him the host he is today. 

Bluegrass: A History by Neil V. Rosenberg

A composite photo of a blue boo kcovr with an illustrated photo of a bluegrass band and the book's author, a bald elderly man with glasses wearing a blue winter jacket.
Bluegrass: A History is a book by Neil V. Rosenberg. (CBC, University of Illinois Press)

"When I was about 15, I became obsessed with the banjo. I asked my mom to get me a banjo for Christmas and she got me one down at O'Brien's, which is the music store in St. John's. 

"The problem was I'm from Newfoundland and there weren't that many people there to teach the five-string banjo. But, it turns out, there was a guy in Newfoundland who played banjo for Bill Monroe, the musician who invented bluegrass music.

"It's the weirdest thing but this sometimes happens in Newfoundland: there are about four five-string banjo players in Newfoundland and one of them played with the guy who created the music and is the pre-eminent scholar of bluegrass music in the world.

"Next thing you know, mom calls him and he says he won't teach me. He doesn't teach. I teach myself a little bit and he comes to see me at the folk festival. He goes, 'Okay, this kid wants to learn. Let's get him in.' So I start going to his house every Saturday morning to get banjo lessons. 

"Early on, I just love the way he talks to me about the music. He's a scholar, so I'd love the way he was talking to me, like, 'Oh yeah, we are going to play a tune called Cumberland Gap. See the thing about Cumberland Gap is it was actually a tune called this from this part of the woods and it was taken from this guy and he started playing like this.' 

"I found myself asking, 'Why did he do that?' 

"'Well, because of this and this and this.' 

"Then, one day Neil just gave me a copy of his life's work, Bluegrass: A History. It was the first ever scholarly treatment of bluegrass music.

What it unlocked in me is that what I am interested in is how and why artists made the art that they did.- Tom Power

"What it unlocked in me is that what I am interested in is how and why artists made the art that they did. What were the social, cultural, political, emotional and spiritual criteria that dictated art being made? I was interested in why bluegrass came out of post-war America. 

"That's what led me to take folklore in school and ultimately what I ended up doing with my life. Since I've been hosting Q, it's never been a cool, hot celebrity show. It's just been me talking to artists asking, 'So why did you do that?' And that all comes from being 15 years old and reading Bluegrass: A History by Neil Rosenberg."

10% Happier by Dan Harris 

The white book cover features a glass half-full of water. Above the glass in red font is the title: 10% Happier. Below the glass it reads, How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works _ A True Story.
10% Happier is a book by Dan Harris. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images, HarperCollins)

"When I was 27 or 28, I had to go the hospital because I thought I was dying. I thought I was having a heart attack. My dad died when I was young and so I have that in my head all the time. 

"I was doing the morning show at the time. I ended up having panic disorder, some pretty intense anxiety. I got help. I got to see a psychologist and take care of it. 

I really feel like some of the good work that I've done — the whole reason the interviews started doing better — can be attributed to my mindfulness practice.- Tom Power

"I was doing work and I was okay. Then I got Q and I really needed the help for that as it was pretty intense at the time. 

"Then, during the pandemic, I had a panic attack live on air. I got home that night in Newfoundland and I called my therapist. My therapist was like, 'This is a very stressful time and in addition to the work you've done, you also need to take care of yourself. You need to quit alcohol and stop smoking weed The work we did is helpful but it's not a vaccine to anxiety and panic.' 

"That was really profound. I ended up reading 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan Harris was an ABC anchor on Good Morning America who had a panic attack on air like I did. 

"He ends up going through the steps for me about my suspicions around meditation — look, I go to Grateful Dead concerts; I'm into the hippy dippy parts of it, but I was still hesitant. He goes through the stages of skepticism for me and it is enough to convince me to start meditating. 

"I feel like some of the good work that I've done — the whole reason the interviews started doing better — can be attributed to my mindfulness practice. I'm so much happier. I'm able to be so much more present with my guests. I'm able to think about dying better. In really practical terms for people who are in weird jobs like we are, it gives easy, beautiful answers to why mindfulness is so important. 

"The premise of the book is, if nothing else happens, it will make you 10 per cent happier." 

Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

A book cover featuring 4 bananas in a row and a photo of the book's author, a man with short hair wearing a blue shirt.
Four Thousand Weeks is a self-help book by Oliver Burkeman. (Allen Lane)

"This job requires so much and I also have my music life and my personal life sometimes. I was always strategizing about how to get everything done and still feeling like I was never getting enough done. 

"This book is a philosophy book disguised as a productivity book. In the first few pages, he says, 'You're never going to get everything done because you're going to die. You have four thousand weeks on Earth. Now what?' 

I did not expect framing productivity through an existential lens to be so powerful. ​​​- Tom Power

"It blew my mind. I have sent it to friends of mine in radio and podcasting and everyone says the same thing: they just needed to hear that. 

"I was always trying to get off my phone because when I'm not on my phone because I am able to get more done but then I thought about it and I was like, 'No, I don't want to be on my phone so much because I am only alive for a little while and I want to enjoy life as much as I can.'

"I did not expect framing productivity through an existential lens to be so powerful." 

LISTEN | Brian Francis recommends three books for managing time, money and stress:

Columnist and novelist Brian Francis discusses three books that give advice on managing time, money and stress.

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good 

Michelle Good is a writer of Cree ancestry and a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. (Kent Wong, Harper Perennial)

"The question I often get is, 'What is your standout interview?' I think people expect me to say Bono or Jerry Seinfeld or Paul Simon. And don't get me wrong, those were unbelievable interviews, but we had Michelle Good on for her book Five Little Indians

"We interviewed her the day after the discovery of the unmarked graves in Kamloops. I spoke to Michelle in Kamloops in her office next door to what was the residential school. 

"I don't want to pontificate here too much because I want people to listen to what Michelle has to say about it. But speaking as a white Canadian, we hear Truth and Reconciliation and we think, 'Oh yeah, reconciliation sounds excellent. I would like that.' But what you actually have to do is the truth. It's in that order for a reason. 

It was one thing to look at the truth of what happened to these children, it's another thing to look at the impact of that on a society and these people going forward.- Tom Power 

"What Michelle is able to do in her book is not just focus on the folks when they were taken from their homes and sent to residential school, which is so horrific and a true tragedy in this country, but Michelle then talks about their lives after that — how that impacted everything they did, every decision they made, every turn they went down. 

"It was one thing to look at the truth of what happened to these children, it's another thing to look at the impact of that on a society and these people going forward. 

"Michelle and I spoke about that: Don't skip to reconciliation. You have to do truth. The best way to do that, I think, is through Michelle's book."

LISTEN | Michelle Good and Tom Power discuss the horrific impact of the residential schools system: 

Writer Michelle Good has won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction. Her debut novel, Five Little Indians, follows five teenagers as they leave residential school and strive to find a place of safety in a world that doesn’t want them. Good previously worked as a lawyer advocating for residential school survivors. She joined Tom Power from Kamloops, B.C., to discuss her work and her amazing literary achievement. If you have been affected by the residential school system and you need support right now, help is out there. The Residential School Crisis Line is open 24-hours a day. The number is 1-866-925-4419.

Power's comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now