Books·My Life In Books

Amanda Parris: 8 books that changed my life

Amanda Parris shares eight books that shaped her life and work.
Amanda Parris is the host of CBC's The Exhibitionists and CBC Radio 2's Marvin's Room.

It's unclear when Amanda Parris finds time to sleep. On top of hosting two CBC shows — Exhibitionists on CBC-TV and the newly launched music program Marvin's Room on CBC Radio 2, she's also an actor, playwright, producer and — most importantly — an avid reader. In her own words, the multi-talented artist reflects on the eight books that have changed her life, from the magic realist tale she cancelled meetings to read to the classic she couldn't stand.

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was a writer, feminist, womanist, and civil rights activist. (Crossing Press)

"The cover is tattered, the pages are dog-eared and the margins have notes aplenty. Audre Lorde's collection of essays provided me with a philosophy for life and a platform for imagination. Her words helped me to understand the nuanced complexity of this thing we call love. She made me reconsider the critical necessity of poetry. She helped me to realize the importance of exercising one's voice and provided me with strategies for resistance against oppression. For a number of years this book lived on my bedside table. It has since made its way to my bookshelf and has been able to collect some dust. But every few years I return to the well-worn pages and marvel at its continued relevance. Sister Outsider is always timely and consistently insightful."

I Am Woman by Lee Maracle

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

"Lee Maracle's I Am Woman is a collection of essays that traverse her thoughts on culture, tradition, spirituality, political sovereignty, education and more. Beyond any textbook, her writing has helped to shape my thoughts and understanding of colonialism and Indigeneity in this country and my own role here as a settler. Lee Maracle is powerful and poetic, funny and heartbreaking, insightful and unapologetic. Everyone should read this."

Silenced by ​Makeda Silvera

Makeda Silvera is a writer who emigrated to Canada from the Caribbean at the age of twelve. (Sister Vision Press)

"Makeda Silvera's Silenced is a collection of interviews with women from the Caribbean who arrived in Canada as domestic workers. It is a difficult read that challenges many of the myths of opportunity and multiculturalism this country holds dear. However, it is an important documentation of what occurred behind closed doors for these women who worked 18-hour days, seven days a week for as little as $200 a month. These women represent the first wave of Caribbean immigrants to this country and their testimonies are a critical addition to our nation's story."

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison won a Pultizer Prize for her 1988 novel, Beloved, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. (Vintage)

"Although I've been a bookworm for as long as I can remember, there is only one novel that has ignited what I can only describe as a spiritual experience. Toni Morrison's Beloved is a work of poetry (hence why it was so difficult to translate to the screen). Inspired by the true story of a woman who killed her infant child rather than return her to a life of slavery, Beloved delves deeply into the heartbreak and trauma of that historical period. It wasn't my first time reading literature that takes place at this juncture in history, but it was my first time truly understanding and feeling what it meant viscerally. While reading under my covers one night I felt myself literally transported to another time and place. From that moment, this history has never been an abstract concept but rather a very real and very tangible moment to which I am indelibly connected."

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts." (Jose Lara/Harper Perennial Modern Classics)

"I didn't go out. I only slept when necessary. I only ate what was readily available. I may have even cancelled meetings. For three days I did nothing productive with my life beyond turning the page and losing myself in the mythical world of Macondo. This novel is a labyrinth of epic proportions and within these larger-than-life overtures are moments of poetry and wisdom that are deeply moving. Now I'm getting the urge to read it again..."

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

Edwidge Danticat has won an American Book Award, for The Farming of Bones, and a national Book Award, for Brother, I'm Dying. (Facebook/Soho Press)

"I didn't know the history that inspired this novel, so when I began reading, I was completely unprepared for the tragedy that inevitably follows. Edwidge Danticat wrote this novel after realizing that so many had forgotten or did not know this history. In 1937, the president of the Dominican Republic Rafael Trujillo ordered the massacre of all Haitians living in the borderlands. Not knowing about any of this, I began reading with little to no defences. I invested fully in the journey of the main character, Amabelle Desir, and was utterly devastated by what transpired. The deep investment and emotional reaction has meant that I have never forgotten this history and probably never will."

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka is remembered as one of the defining voices of 20th century literature. (Schocken)

"I was living in New York and going to theatre plays and art shows with a lot of people who kept using the term 'Kafkaesque.' I had no idea what they meant but didn't want to be the 'un-sophisticated Canadian,' so I would just nod silently in fake contemplation/understanding. It was one of those rare instances where Google wasn't much help so I went to Strand Bookstore and picked up a copy of The Trial. It was a laborious read to say the least. I'm sighing just remembering how I struggled to get through it. When I was finally done I was no closer to understanding what 'Kafkaesque' meant than when I had started. I think I just stopped hanging out with those people."

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler has won numerous Hugo awards for achievement in science-fiction writing. (Grand Central Publishing)

"This isn't a horror story, but Octavia Butler's portrait of our potential future (set 10 years from now) seems so prophetic that fear instantly gripped me as I was reading. Although classified as a sci-fi novel, Parable of the Sower depicts a world not too far from the one we live in today. Thanks to global warming, wealth disparity and economic crisis, the U.S. has become virtually uninhabitable. Democratic government has basically collapsed, cities have devolved into anarchy, slavery has returned, policing is privatized and natural resources (including and especially water) are dangerously scarce. Safety is found in gated communities that are frequently under attack. In the midst of the chaos is the beauty of the Earthseed religion/philosophy created by the main character, Lauren Olamina. It proclaims that 'God is Change.' I've re-read many of the passages, unpacking what this means over the years. However, Parable of the Sower remains one of the scariest books I've ever read."


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