Books·My Life in Books

6 books that inspired The Marrow Thieves novelist Cherie Dimaline

The author of Empire of Wild and The Marrow Thieves shares the books that have shaped her as a reader and writer.
Cherie Dimaline is the author of Empire of Wild. (CBC, Random House Canada)

Cherie Dimaline's new novel Empire of Wild is a dark fantasy novel about a Métis woman named Joan who is devastated by the disappearance of her husband Victor. Then, one hungover morning in a Walmart parking lot, Joan is shocked to find a man the spitting image of Victor, preaching to a crowd of adoring worshippers. But this man calls himself Reverend Wolff and has no memory of Joan or their life together.

Dimaline had a breakthrough year in 2017 with the award-winning and bestselling book The Marrow ThievesThe novel won the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text, the U.S. Kirus Prize and the CODE Burt Award and was defended on Canada Reads 2018 by Jully Black.

Dimaline shared a reading list with CBC Books in 2018, telling us about six books that have shaped her as a reader and writer.

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss

Hop on Pop is a picture book of short stories by Dr. Seuss. (Library of Congress/Random house)

"I must have been four when my mom ordered to get Dr. Seuss books through the mail every month. I remember being super excited about them showing up and going to the post office to get them. It honestly felt like Christmas every month. Hop on Pop was the very first book I read.

"I remember the magic of them showing up. The books were so accessible and exciting. That drove my fascination with the idea that there were stories in these pages. I come from a community of storytellers and they tell us stories, but this was when I first realized that there are stories in pages and you can revisit them."

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare's Macbeth follows a depraved man's attempts at ascending to power. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"In Grade 5, I did a book report on Shakespeare's Macbeth. People discouraged me from doing that book. I remember my teacher specifically saying, 'There's no way you're going to do a book report on Macbeth. That's a pretty advanced book, you're not going to get it. It's not going to work.' And I remember thinking, 'Well, like hell, now I'm definitely going to do this book.' It was important because it made me realize that challenging yourself in reading is good. I remember nuances of that book and I remember absorbing the sounds of the language and then figuring out what it was and where it was going."

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is the author of Brown Girl in the Ring. (Courtesy of Nalo Hopkinson/Grand Central Publishing)

"That book changed my understanding of science fiction and is largely responsible for The Marrow Thieves. It gave me that intersection of being an Indigenous person, not being part of 'mainstream Canada' and still being able to use different genres and avenues to express our stories. In the book, I saw the language of black Canada, the story of marginalized people that were moving forward in a powerful way through the fiction genre. It was genius and so beautifully done. I remember meeting Nalo years later and I didn't even know what to say to her. I was like, 'Do you even know what you're responsible for?' It was a beautiful way of taking our stories and putting it into a genre that largely continues to be white."

Halfbreed by Maria Campbell

Halfbreed is a memoir by Métis author and playwright Maria Campbell. (Ted Whitecalf/U of Nebraska Press)

"When I read Maria Campbell and Lee Maracle as a younger person, it was the first time that I saw myself in books. I knew I loved books and loved to read, but I never saw myself because there was never an Indigenous person. As a halfbreed person, I never imagined I would ever say, 'Oh my god, like this is us, this is literally myself.' There's a musicality in the writing. When I read Maria Campbell, if I didn't know that she was Métis, I would have known by the cadence of her words, by the rhythms."

I Am Woman by Lee Maracle

Lee Maracle is a Canadian First Nations Coast Salish poet and author. (Columpa Carmen Bobb Photography/Press Gang)

"If I didn't know Lee, I would have known that she was West Coast by the way that she speaks and the authority with which she carries her sentences forward. It's about those worldviews, one is very circular and the other is very angular; everything about the way that we live in those landscapes comes through in those books. So besides the political importance and the impact for Indigenous rights and feminism, there was just the very simple fact that, for the first time, I could actually see myself in a book."

We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes

We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes is on the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. (HarperCollins)

"Joel Thomas Hynes is remarkable to me because he represents Newfoundland in a way that I haven't seen. There's this vulnerability in brokenness that is so complete in his fiction. If you've been to Newfoundland and you know people from Newfoundland, this book will make you feel like you're there. You feel like you're talking to someone from the island. He has this enormous passion and love for where he's from. It's like he's doing a landscape painting of the rocky coast in these characters and structured sentences. It's quite remarkable.

"It's not the easiest read. I picked up his earlier work because of it and it was the same. It's like he just cracks open his rib cage and is like, 'Here you go. Have at it. You don't have to love it, but there it is.' I respect that fearlessness in his writing."

Cherie Dimaline's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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