Canada Reads·My Life In Books

Humble The Poet: 5 books that changed my life

Canada Reads 2017 champion Humble The Poet tells us about some of his favourite works of literature.
Humble The Poet is a rapper, author and spoken word artist based in Los Angeles. (CBC)

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize when it was published in 2015, so Humble The Poet felt pretty confident when he chose to champion the the modern-day fable on Canada Reads 2017. The Toronto-born spoken-word artist didn't disappoint, ushering Alexis's novel to a first place finish on Day Four of the Canada Reads debates..

Below, Humble The Poet shares some of the books that have shaped his life.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Louis Sachar won the U.S. National Book Award for Young People's Literature for his book Holes. (HarperCollins)

"As a kid, I remember a teacher reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. I loved the whole premise of the story, which was that instead of building a 30-classroom school horizontally, they ended up building it vertically, so it became 30 floors. The books were these funny stories about the class on the 30th floor. When I became a school teacher, I took the same books and read them to my students. I think they were published in the early 1970s, but they hadn't lost their relevance. They're just so funny and wonderful."

God's Debris by Scott Adams

Scott Adam's is the creator of Dilbert series. (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

"Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comics. I think God's Debris was his first non-comedic book. He published it probably in the early 2000s and it's extremely relevant now. The book predicts that instead of the God versus science debate, people are going to find a happy medium where people are able to consolidate their beliefs of God or spirituality alongside science. It's a very short read. It's super well-written and definitely ahead of its time. It taught me to be little bit more cerebral and to think a little more with my head rather than my heart."

The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X

Malcolm X has been described as one of the most influential African Americans in history. (Library of Congress/Ballantine Books)

"Somebody I really looked up to told me that The Autobiography of Malcolm X was the most important book they'd ever read. And when I read it, the book tattooed itself onto my soul. Learning where he came from, what he went through and learning about what the environment was really like back then. Seeing his transformation from being completely illiterate to teaching himself how to read so he could write letters. Seeing the purity and simplicity of his methods. It was definitely an important read of being non-passive with your convictions. Fight for what you believe in. You can't always be passive all the time. It was super inspiring."

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

Ishmeal Beah was a child soldier during the civil war in Sierra Leone. (John Madere/Penguin Canada)

"A Long Way Gone is the autobiography of Ishmael Beah, who was a child soldier. I remember that book had me turning pages, staying up late at night to find out what was going to happen next. It was such a heart-wrenching journey about what he experienced as a child and how he was able to survive. Now he lives in the U.S. and in the book he talks about how his experiences have impacted his ability to live now."

The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene

50 Cent is a Grammy Award winning rapper and Robert Greene is the author of the 48 Laws of Power. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/HarperCollins)

"Robert Greene is kind of a modern-day alchemist in the sense that he writes about turning shit into sugar. Every opportunity can be made into something wonderful. There are a lot of extreme anecdotes from 50 Cent's experience, whether it was getting shot or robbed. The book shows how he was able to take these situations, turn them on their heads and come out benefiting from them. Sometimes, if we just take a step back and take a deep breath, we can find or create a silver lining in any situation.

"I had a bad experience with a business partner. They turned out to be much more malicious and shady than I had realized. Dealing with that betrayal really broke my heart and put me in a very difficult position financially. I wasn't able to focus on anything else. Reading that book showed me that a) your story isn't unique. This happens to people all the time and b) you are in a position right now where you can turn this around for your benefit. You always have that power."


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