Books·My Life in Books

Emma Donoghue shares her favourite books

The author of the novels Room, Frog Music and Akin shares 6 books that shaped her life and work.
Emma Donoghue won an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay for her novel Room. (Punch Photographic )

Emma Donoghue is one of Canada's most successful writers.

The film version of her novel Room was a regular on the awards circuit, with an Academy Award win for actress Brie Larson and an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay for Emma Donoghue.

Her other books include the novels LandingRoomFrog MusicThe Wonder and the children's book The Lotterys Plus One. Her most recent book is the novel Akin.

Akin begins as Noah, an elderly man, prepares for a trip to Nice. A social worker calls Noah out of the blue to ask him to temporarily take in his 11-year-old great nephew, whom he's never met. He agrees to take Michael to France and the two clash — but together they uncover old family secrets hiding in the French Riviera.

Donoghue will be at the Vancouver Writers' Festival on Tuesday, Oct. 22. You can find more information about the event here.

In 2016, Donoghue shared her favourite books with CBC Books. Check them out below.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

A black and white photo of an older man. A book cover of a blue and white castle, a lion, a woman's face.
C.S. Lewis is the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. (Associated Press, HarperCollins)

"My breakthrough book was The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. A wonderful babysitter — a lapsed trainee priest, actually — read me the entire set when I was very young (I think about four). I'm now on my second go of reading them aloud to my kids. They still turn up in my work — for instance in Room, Jack's private retreat, Wardrobe, owes a lot to the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Grimms' Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

The Brothers Grimm are the authors of Grimm's Fairy Tales. (Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann, Simon & Schuster)

"Fairy tales obsessed me from about seven to 12. I remember bringing Grimm's Tales (a thick hardback) with me on a sleepover at my cousins' and being completely unsociable all evening. In our local public library, I sought out books of Russian fairy tales, Greek fairy tales, Irish fairy tales... and when I figured out that the same motifs kept turning up in (but given different flavours) in these different national collections, I thought I'd made a real discovery, until my literary critic father Denis Donoghue told me Vladimir Propp had identified them back in 1928."

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Angela Carter is the author of the The Bloody Chamber. (British Library Board, Penguin Classics)

"Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is an astonishingly sensuous, risky revisionist take on classic fairy tales. She and other feminist writers of the 1980s made me realise that all the old storylines could be rethought — even exploded. I published my own book of revisionist fairy tales (focused on relations between women) called Kissing the Witch, and fairy tale motifs pop up in everything I write."

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson was a reclusive American poet. (Barnes Noble Classics)

"My mother often quoted Emily Dickinson's poems when I was growing up, and if I had to pick one endlessly interesting book to bring to a desert island it might be her Collected Poems. She was also crucial to me as an example of a truly eccentric writer who left the world behind to follow her private vision."

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is the author of The Passion. (Grove Atlantic)

"Jeanette Winterson's The Passion was the first novel that made me feel that lesbian fiction and literary fiction weren't incompatible. That seems a strange worry now, but in the 1980s it seemed as if the lesbian-themed books I sought out were all pretty lowbrow! It gave me the confidence to start writing literary fiction that had same-sex storylines, without feeling committed to any particular 'positive representation' or agenda."

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is the author of The Handmaid's Tale. (Jean Malek, McClelland & Stewart)

"The first Canadian novel I ever read — long before I moved here in 1998 — was Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It's still the best feminist speculative fiction I know; so horribly plausible, that rise in extreme right-wing ideology, and that moment when the narrator finds her ATM card doesn't work anymore because women's bank accounts have been frozen... Something I've always found inspiring about Atwood is the way she ignores labels and categories, writing books set in the past, present, or future, whenever and wherever her imagination wants to go."