8 books that inspired Son of a Critch star Mark Critch
Son of a Critch premieres on CBC TV and CBC Gem on Jan. 4, 2022.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes star Mark Critch says being from Newfoundland and Labrador has greatly informed his life and work — an influence he explores in his memoir, Son of a Critch. The comedian and actor says it was feelings of isolation and a love of reading that has inspired him over the years.
The comedy series, adapted from his 2018 book, is a humorous look at Critch's childhood growing up in 1980s St. John's as an awkward pre-teen — and how he tries to win over new friends with his unique sense of humour.
The TV adaptation of Son of a Critch also stars Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Claire Rankin and British actor Malcolm McDowell.
Critch connected with CBC Books to talk about the books he has loved reading over the years.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend
"The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ is written by English author Sue Townsend. It's a comedic book, written in a diary style. Young Adrian Mole fancies himself an intellectual. He's a nerdy guy and he narrates it in the very protective way he sees the world, which the reader knows to be wrong. It was so funny and satirical. It had a lot of honest things about being that age. As a nerdy 13-year-old kid, it really spoke to me."
Heroes and Villains by Steven Gaines
"Growing up with older parents — my Mom and Dad are quite a bit older compared to the parents of other kids I grew up around — I was into classic rock with my Dad. I got on a Beach Boys kick when I was in Grade 6. I came across the album Pet Sounds and was trying to figure out the difference between the surfer songs and what the heck the other songs were about. But this was pre-Internet, and I had to piece together the information by myself.
"Heroes and Villains is a rock bio of the Beach Boys. It gets into how a cutesy surfer All-American rock band quickly devolves into drugs, Brian Wilson's mental breakdown and Dennis Wilson getting tangled up with the Manson family, with Charles Manson winding up at his house threatening to kill them. Being a kid I was like, 'Oh my God.' It was the first time a book pulled back a veneer for me. It started me on a love of rock music history."
Out Without My Rubbers: The Memoirs of John Murray Anderson
"Out Without My Rubbers is about a guy who was originally from St. John's and went off to New York because he was interested in theatre. He bought a bunch of old antiques around the island, put them on a boat and sold them to buy his way into being a theatrical producer. He went on to become the biggest Broadway producer after Flo Ziegfeld, at the time.
"He played a key role in The Ziegfeld Follies theatrical revue productions in the 1930s and 1940s and also became a movie producer. He's not a household name, yet he had this incredible career. Being from a very small town, going to New York felt like going to the moon. Knowing that somebody from the East Coast one day just up and left for America and became a big success was fascinating to me."
A Winter's Tale: The Wreck of the Florizel by Cassie Brown
"A Winter's Tale is about a shipwreck disaster in 1918 of the SS Florizel. The ship was like a smaller Titanic. It would do runs between New York, Halifax and St. John's. One night, in heavy ice, the ship is traveling at a slower speed and the captain can't quite figure out why that is. The ship ends up going full steam onto the rocks just north of Cape Race. The rest of the book is about trying to save the men, women and children that have been washed overboard.
"In St. John's at Bowring Park, there's a famous statue of Peter Pan that is dedicated to Betty Munn. She was a three-year-old who died on that shipwreck. This was the book that made the connection for me between the statue, the girl and the ill-fated ship. It started my love of local history. It's a great book."
Tomorrow will be Sunday by Harold Horwood
"I was in the play based on this book. There's a story in Son of a Critch in which I couldn't make it on stage in this play. The play is about a young man in a rural Newfoundland town who is being molested by a local preacher. There's a schoolteacher who tries to protect him, but the preacher ends up turning the town against this teacher so that he can continue to manipulate the boy.
"It's a really good book. At the time, the whole Mount Cashel Orphanage abuse scandal and inquiry was happening. Even though this book was written long before that, it spoke to what was happening that the time."
Naked by David Sedaris
"It's a darkly funny book. It has rich characters, many based on his family members. It has this 'stripped bare' naked humanity of these people. I love the tone and the way it's written. It's just good dark humour. As a comic writer, I found it very inspiring."
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
"I was a huge comic book fan growing up, but more of the Golden Age comics, which can again be traced to me having older parents. This book, which is set in that world, features two characters, Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, who are loosely based on the creators of Superman and are creating a superhero.
"It's these young Jewish guys escaping Nazi-occupied Europe and creating the hero that could do anything. It's about them as they grow up and split apart to very different lives. I loved that world and I love the characters. It's a beautifully written book."
"Sweetland takes place in a rural community where they have to vote to either stay or leave the community forever and get a financial package. There's one holdout who decides to stay. The whole town turns against him. He eventually ends up sneaking back and trying to survive by himself.
"Resettlement happened a lot in the 1960s in Newfoundland and Labrador. I've spent a lot of time in rural Newfoundland and I've seen the after effects of that. We're going through a similar time now, with an economic crisis and with packages again being offered to communities.
"They have to vote to decide whether or not to keep their community alive. Younger people want to move on and the older folks have no other way of life. The book resonated with me because I know people who are going through that experience. The book sums up, in a lot of ways, life in that region."
Mark Critch's comments have been edited for length and clarity.