7 books that Canada Reads author Cory Doctorow loved reading
Cory Doctorow describes himself as an eclectic and voracious reader.
The Toronto-raised, Los Angeles-based journalist, activist and blogger — and author of notable books such as Walkaway, Little Brother and Radicalized — noted it was a Lewis Carroll classic that kickstarted his love of literature.
"One day in Grade 2, I pulled out Alice in Wonderland and just I started reading it. It was the first book I recall reading for myself. My teacher saw that I was reading and didn't stop me for two days," he tells CBC Books.
"Now I'm married to a woman named Alice and it's probably not a coincidence!"
These are the books that Doctorow has loved reading over the years.
Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars by Daniel Pinkwater
"Daniel Pinkwater is a treasure, author of more than 100 books for young kids, tweens, young adults and grownups. I picked this book up from my North York, Ont.-based middle-school's classroom bookshelf when I was about 12. I was transfixed by a story about school-cutting weirdos who discover a badly photocopied guide to mind control and interdimensional travel in a sketchy used bookstore across the street from the world's greatest chili restaurant.
There is no author writing today who is better at inspiring young readers to woo the muse of the odd.- Cory Doctorow
"Pinkwater has revisited these themes in other books, notably Young Adult Novel (which throws in situationism for teens!) and The Education of Robert Nifkin, a Duddy Kravitz tribute set in an achingly real alternative school. There is no author writing today who is better at inspiring young readers to woo the muse of the odd."
The Jhereg series by Steven Brust
"Steven Brust began his Jhereg series in 1983, and I read it that year when I was 12 years old. I loved the wisecracking assassin and his magical familiar, the sword-and-sorcery milieu and the skullduggery that the protagonist, Vlad Taltos, gets up to as he triumphs in a baroque gang war among factions of a giant criminal organisation.
Nineteen books are planned in this series, and I cannot wait to find out how it ends.- Cory Doctorow
"About 37 years and 14 books later, Brust is nearly finished with the series, and I've grown up with it. Looking back on these books in hindsight, I can appreciate how Brust's Trotskyist politics infuse the story, creating a constant undercurrent of class struggle in the otherwise familiar fantasy setting (it is said that only Marxist fantasy writers get the ratio of vassals to lords even remotely right), to say nothing of Brust's musical obsessions, his incredible gifts as a chef, and his love of Hungarian mythology.
"Brust was Roger Zelazny's protegé, but he's surpassed Zelazny's work many times over. Nineteen books are planned in this series, and I cannot wait to find out how it ends."
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
"Octavia Butler is famed as an afrofuturist pioneer, the first black woman who rose to prominence in science fiction and inspired generations of writers of all backgrounds and genders to follow in her footsteps.
"She has a deserved reputation as a political writer, but don't let that lead you astray: for all that Butler's work explores heavy themes of white supremacy and misogyny, she writes crackling works of adventure fiction, like some kind of woke Heinlein, the kind of books that punch you in the chest, grab your heart and *drag* you through stories that do. not. let. up.
Octavia Butler... inspired generations of writers of all backgrounds and genders to follow in her footsteps.- Cory Doctorow
"Parable of the Sower (and its sequel, Parable of the Talents) are dystopian stories about California in flames, sinking into feudalism and a latter day Joan of Arc who leads a caravan of survivors to a better life."
Distraction by Bruce Sterling
"The intellectual godfather of the cyberpunk movement, Sterling has written many noteworthy novels and short stories, and one of the most visionary nonfiction books about climate-friendly manufacturing, 2005's Shaping Things.
Read in 2020, Distraction feels even more visionary than it did in 1998.- Cory Doctorow
"But it's in Distraction, Sterling's 1998 book about U.S. presidential elections, that he attained his greatest fictional achievement: a book that's by turns madcap and cynical, with a deep understanding of the U.S. body politic and some incredibly shrewd observations about the secret levers that control it, and where they will bring the USA to in the future.
"Read in 2020, Distraction feels even more visionary than it did in 1998, proving that Bruce Sterling is at least a quarter century ahead of the rest of us."
Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
"Koja established herself as the doyenne of explicit, erotically charged horror — a short-lived genre with the unfortunate name of 'splatterpunk' — in the 1990s and I loved her lavish language and unabashed poesie. Then she pivoted to writing stripped-down, spare YA novels for a decade, stories that thrummed with unadorned economy.
Koja established herself as the doyenne of explicit, erotically charged horror — a short-lived genre with the unfortunate name of splatterpunk.- Cory Doctorow
"Then came Under the Poppy, a historical noir novel set in the lowlands in the run-up to the Great War, about a brothel and its bawdy puppet-show, that marries her gorgeous prose with the kind of sexualized, grim material that kickstarted her career. It's my favourite of all Koja's work, and that's saying something."
Among Others by Jo Walton
"It's no wonder Montreal's Jo Walton won the Hugo Award for this fictionalized memoir of her own life as an awkward, traumatized teen discovering community — and danger — in science fiction novels.
It's no wonder Montreal's Jo Walton won the Hugo Award for this fictionalized memoir of her own life. - Cory Doctorow
"Walton has a second career as a brilliant literary critic, and the potted reviews of the books her fictionalized self discovers as she navigates the brutal environs of a posh English boarding school and her murderous mother make this into a kind of literary meta-adventure. Walton's alternate self may or may not be capable of doing real magic, and the delicate touch with which Walton handles this ambiguity is a master-class in literary slight-of-hand."
"Gibson's latest novel is unmistakably a William Gibson novel in that it confronts our present day as though it were the future of a strange alien race, challenging us to experience the sheer weirdness of our present moment. It's a time-travel novel, the sequel to 2014's The Peripheral, and it's set in three timelines, including an alternate 2020 in which Donald Trump lost the 2016 election and the world is still a dumpster fire on the brink of nuclear annihilation.
It confronts our present day as though it were the future of a strange alien race.- Cory Doctorow
"Gibson has written about his legacy as a pulp writer, and how it lets him 'do plot' and this is on spectacular display in Agency, where a rogue AI is used to lash the protagonists through a series of plot twists at breakneck speed, turning the futuristic worlds Gibson imagines so vividly into blurs that roar past us as the story propels us along without mercy or pause."
Cory Doctorow's comments have been edited for length and clarity.
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