Books·My Life in Books

Louise Penny's life in books

The author shares 5 books that shaped their life and work.
Louise Penny is the author of the award-winning Armand Gamache series of murder mysteries. (Jean-François Bérubé)

July 7, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of award-winning crime fiction writer Louise Penny's first book in her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Still Life

Ever gracious and generous with her time, Penny was glad to open up to CBC Books on some of the books that have played an important role in her personal and professional life.

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

E.B. White is the author of Charlotte's Web. (Wikimedia Commons/HarperCollins)

"Charlotte's Web by E. B. White introduced me to the power of storytelling... I was a very fearful child. I was afraid of everything, so reading in my room was the only place on Earth I felt safe. I was reading Charlotte's Web and one of the things I was most afraid of was spiders. Like for most children, it almost was a phobia... But halfway through the book I realized that I really loved Charlotte. I didn't want anything bad to happen to her. And this was a spider! In that instant my fear of spiders disappeared. I understood, at that moment, the power of the word and the power of storytelling. For a fearful child to have such a principal fear lifted because of a story was beyond imagining. I knew I wanted to be part of that world forever. I'm not sure if I initially thought I wanted to be a writer then, but I knew I wanted to be a reader for the rest of my life. Writers start off as readers, and that's where it all began.

The writing of Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is the author of 66 detective novels. (Walter Bird/Getty Images/HarperCollins)

"It would be hard to read my books and not see Agatha Christie's influence. In fact, the first sentence of Still Life is 'Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.' 'Jane' was a tribute to Miss Jane Marple. I wanted to have that right away — a thank-you to Agatha Christie... I learned from her the immense joy of crime fiction — that odd dichotomy of something that should be very dark but is in fact comforting. I still can't explain that... The first books I ever discussed with someone else, outside of the classroom, were Agatha Christie's books with my mother. And to the day she died, that was our surrender. Whenever we had difficult moments, as mothers and daughters often do, and be on the verge of saying something we didn't really mean, one of us would inevitably say, 'What are you reading?' And that's the truce sign. We'd find common ground in the books that we were reading and that started with Agatha Christie."

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Isabel Allende is the author of The House of the Spirits and Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude. (Atria Books/Quim Roses/Harper Perennial/Jose Lara)

"Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits and Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude are two books that introduced me to magical realism and set me on a couple of years of reading almost exclusively magical realism and South American writers. I bring an element of magical realism into my books because of this. Just a touch. In the books I describe the setting of Three Pines, but the village does not exist on any map. It's only ever found by people who are lost. So there is that element of something otherworldly and that is where that came from."

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Farley Mowat is the author of Never Cry Wolf. (Fred Phipps, Emblem Editions)

"One of the books that made a big impression on me was Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf. I remember the moment, in the classroom, when I suddenly realized that Farley Mowat was Canadian, that he was a writer and he was alive. It was possible to be all three at once! Up until that moment, most of the books we had read were by British writers who were long dead. So the fact that a Canadian could be a contemporary writer was an eye opener... When Still Life was about to come out, my husband Michael and I were on a train and a couple of rows up ahead of us was this tiny little man. Mowat had this very specific look — you couldn't mistake him for anyone else. I spent most of the trip wondering if I should say something. Finally, I got up and went down to introduce myself. I explained how his body of work had been such an inspiration to me, and how my first book was just about to be published and the taproot was Never Cry Wolf. I remember thanking him and then walking back in streams of tears, happy that I could finally thank this man for what he had done."


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