Books·My Life in Books

Filmmaker Anita Lee on the 8 books that shaped her life

Lee was a producer on the Sarah Polley documentary Stories We Tell.
Anita Lee is the founder of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival and was a producer on Sarah Polley's film Stories We Tell. (National Film Board)

Anita Lee is an executive producer at the National Film Board of Canada and founder of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. Lee served as producer on Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell and appeared on CBC's The Filmmakers series to discuss the documentary. 

Below, the Canadian filmmaker discusses eight book that changed her life.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders was S.E. Hinton's first book, launching her career in 1967. It is now considered a classic young adult novel. (The Associated Press/Viking Press)

"I read this book in elementary school. I was an avid reader and read everything in the school library and off the bookmobile that‎ rolled into the suburban shopping plaza near where we lived. By this time, I had moved from Seoul to Buenos Aires to Toronto. Ponyboy, the teenage protagonist and the notion of 'outsiders' really resonated with me."

Who Do You Think You Are? by Alice Munro

Alice Munro wrote 17 books over her acclaimed career. Who Do You Think You Are? was published in 1979. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press/Viking)

"So many Alice Munro books were deeply illuminating for me and often marked transitions in life from youth to adulthood, to marriage and so forth. Who Do You Think You Are? was the first I read and therefore the most memorable. The world of Rose in small-town Ontario, her struggle to create her own identity and claim her own voice, stirred my own youthful defiance and desire for something more."

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel García Márquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. His novel One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967. García Márquez died in 2014. (Eduardo Verdugo/Canadian Press/Everyman's Library)

"I took a Latin American Literature class in university, which is where I first read One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was overwhelmed by the dense, surreal epic, spanning multiple generations of an eccentric Colombian family. Flash forward. Married to a Colombian for over 20 years, I am entangled in my own extended, very large, multi-generational Colombian family and twice reread One Hundred Years of Solitude, each time more astounded by the masterful storytelling."

The Electrical Field by Kerri Sakamoto

Kerri Sakamoto's first novel The Electrical Field, published in 1998, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book and the Canada-Japan Literary Award. (Jenna Muirhead-Gould/Vintage Canada)

"This ‎brilliant first novel was written by my close friend Kerri Sakamoto. Set in the 1970s, the story reaches into the past to explore the psychological aftermath of Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War and the lingering impact on a community. Drawn from her own family's experience of internment, it was a finalist for a Governor General's Literary Award and winner of the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Book, a significant milestone for Asian Canadian literature."

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls published her memoir The Glass Castle in 2005. A film adaptation of the book is due out in 2017, starring Brie Larson. (John Taylor/Simon & Schuster)

"I have always been drawn to the space of creative nonfiction, especially personal memoirs, and how ‎the stories we carry within, shape us. This achingly painful and hauntingly beautiful memoir by Jeanette Walls of a nomadic, neglected and unconventional childhood made me reflect on questions of family, forgiveness and acceptance."

The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee

Award-winning writer Chang-Rae Lee published The Surrendered in 2010. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images/Riverhead Books)

"Native Speaker, the first novel by Korean American writer Chang-Rae Lee, was one of the first major literary works from the Korean diaspora. The Surrendered, his fourth novel features a middle aged, Korean American woman June, who as a young girl flees from North Korea during the Korean War, is orphaned and brought to the U.S. I felt a deeper understanding of my own parents, who also fled North Korea as children, through the book's profound revelations of the human heart."

Unaccustomed Earth by Jumpa Lahiri

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri published Unaccustomed Earth in 2008. (Marco Delogu/Vintage Canada)

"From her first short story collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, I have been awe-struck at Lahiri's gift. Unaccustomed Earth explores generations of a South Asian immigrant family  and the nuances of living between cultures. The beauty and wisdom of the writing took my breath away. When I finished the last page, I was speechless. And somehow, my life seemed to make more sense."

The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay are the first three books in Elena Ferrante's acclaimed Neapolitan quartet. (Europa Editions)

"These are actually four novels by Ferrante, which have garnered significant publicity, including the mystery of the writer. I read them all back to back, unable to put them down. The epic story of a friendship between two women in Naples, Italy, from girlhood to old age, ‎is one of the deepest, most complex excavations of female friendship and identity in art. The books have inspired me to reflect on the incredible female friends past and present, who have shaped and shown me who I am."


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