Canada Reads·My Life in Books

Candy Palmater: 5 books that changed my life

The Canada Reads panellist shares some of the books that have shaped her life and work.
Candy Palamater is defending The Break by Katherena Vermette on Canada Reads. (CBC)

Candy Palmater is a comedian, lawyer and broadcaster. She hosts The Candy Show on APTN, and her daily interview series The Candy Palmater Show aired on CBC Radio One in 2016. Most recently, she championed The Break by Katherena Vermette on Canada Reads 2017. The book was eliminated after intense debate on Day One of the competition.

We asked Candy to name five books that changed her life — no small feat considering the voracious reader has over 4,000 kg of books in her collection (her movers actually weighed them).

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

Ann Rule's 1980 true crime book is about is about serial killer Ted Bundy. (Pocket Books/AP)

"When Ann Rule transitioned from being a police officer to being a true crime writer, she started in crime magazines and the magazine actually contacted her. They said, 'We want you to do a running story on this serial killer that's loose in California.' They didn't know who it was at the time. She starts researching and putting together her writing for this series. At some point in the investigation as she's working with the police, she starts to think to herself, 'It doesn't make sense, but this sounds like my friend, Ted Bundy.' She was friends with him! As she does the research and is moving along, it becomes clear to her that this might actually be the guy. Instead of it being this magazine article, it becomes this whole book called The Stranger Beside Me. In fact, after he was incarcerated she was one of the only people he would grant interviews to.

"But why would I put it on this list of five books that changed my life? Two reasons. After I read this book, I became obsessed with serial killers; the motivation of serial killers, the investigation of serial killers, the capture of serial killers, all of that. But, those of you who know me would be surprised that, as a liberal, I grew up believing in the death penalty. It was 1999 and I was in Fredericton, New Brunswick at St. Thomas University's Vanier Hall, watching on television when they executed Ted Bundy. Groups of people, thousands of people, with their kids and picnic baskets in tow, showed up to party and celebrate the execution. When I watched that on my TV screen, it fundamentally changed the way I felt about capital punishment and I have been against it ever since."

The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

American writer Dorothy Parker was a founding member of the of the Algonquin Round Table. (Penguin Classics)

"I feel Dorothy Parker and I were the same woman born at two different times, except I'm not nearly as smart as Dorothy was, but I am as sarcastic. This book is a collection of her short stories, her poems. It really was the forward that caught me so much — I've always loved her writing, but when I read the forward they talked about the fact that she could never write a novel. She was this incredible essay writer, incredible poet, but what she really wanted was to write a novel because she felt it would legitimize her as a writer. In fact, she referred to it always as 'that damn novel' that she could never write. She even tried to kill herself once after another failed attempt at writing the novel by swallowing shoe polish. What a lesson to learn about the fact that sometimes you want so badly to have a talent or have an experience, but in fact you have this incredible talent that, years after your death, other people are still going to be talking about. Don't worry so much, and don't get so in your head about what you don't have. Celebrate what you do have because it may be the very thing that gives you immortality."

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Author Azar Nafisi left Iran in 1997. (Random House/Marshall Clarke)

"This was written by a professor who was living in Tehran right when things changed; the whole government regime changed and life went from a more liberal way of living back to their traditional way of living. So suddenly the very subjects she was teaching, the very books she was teaching became illegal, particularly for girls and women. This professor set up a secret reading group at her home, with a small group of young girls she was teaching. They would smuggle contraband books like Lolita in and be able to read them. One of the young girls is caught with nail polish on the way to school and they never see her again. Another time, a young girl is caught with a book that I had sitting on my shelf, and they never see her again.

"For me to be reading that while I'm encased in these shelves filled with every book my heart would desire, and who would tell me what I can or cannot read? What I can or cannot say about reading? I'm not reading about something that happened 150 years ago. I'm reading about the experience of girls and women right now, today, and how their relationship with books is different from mine. From the day I read this to this very day, I've never picked up a book without thinking about this and thinking about those girls and women who don't have the privilege and access that I have to books."

The Grass Dancer by Susan Power

Susan Power is a member of the Standing Rock Tribe. (Berkley Books)

"This book is written in what I would call a true Indigenous storytelling style. In Indigenous culture, when you ask your dad or mom, 'Hey, can I take the car and go to a concert this weekend?', they never say yes or no. They say something like, 'You know, when I was a young fella... ' and they tell you a story. Then you are supposed to use the wisdom of that story to figure out for yourself whether or not you should go to the concert. Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the wrong decision. When you make the wrong decision, they will often sit you down and tell you the story again, and then it makes sense. 

"The Grass Dancer is a collection of short stories technically, however I believe the book itself is telling you a story. It's giving you a lesson, a moral, but it's doing it with seemingly disconnected stories. I've given it as a gift numerous times. I've got the phone call saying, 'Why did you give me this book? I don't get it.' When people say they don't get it, I say, 'Please tuck it in your night stand. A year and a half from now, read it again.' I've read it probably 15 times since I've gotten it and I've never gotten the same story twice. Every time I read it, different place in my life, different place in time. I get a different lesson out of this collection of short stories. I didn't feel it got the oomph it deserved when it came out."

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier's novel won the National Book Award in 1938. (Little, Brown and Company)

"I own almost 9,000 pounds of books. I read about 55 a year. This one I can say without any hesitation is my favourite book of all time. This book was the first time I read a book that spoke to my experience. I love Jane Austen. I'm never going to be an English lady taking a walk on a big English spread and have some nice experience with some lord or gentleman. That's never going to happen. I love to read about it, but it's never going to happen. This book — I so relate to her. I say her because we never actually get the first name of the main character.

"There is more here than meets the eye. A lot of people think it's about marriage. I think it's a complicated story about three different women, some of whom we idolize, some of whom we colour as witches, but all three of whom exist inside me. I feel Mrs. Danvers; I'm a woman without a child and I understand her feelings. I feel Rebecca. I also feel the main character, who we only ever know as Mrs. de Winter, her married name. But I feel her because as a younger woman I felt like we had a lot in common.

"It's one of those books that I read over and over again, because every time it paints a picture for me. The opening line: 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.' What an opening line. I know what Manderley looks like. I know what it smells like. I can feel the velvet of those flowers along the driveway. That's the kind of picture that Daphne du Maurier has painted. I was asked, have I read other things that she's written? I have not. You know why? I'm scared it will ruin me. This book is such a treat for me. It's like having a strawberry shortcake after a steak. It's that good. I don't want to ruin it. I am someday going to attack her other books."

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