Books·My Life in Books

Miriam Toews: 5 books that changed my life

The recipient of the $50,000 Writers' Trust Fellowship shares the books that have shaped her life.
Miriam Toews's All My Puny Sorrows was a Scotiabank Giller Prize finalist in 2014. (Carol Loewen)

Miriam Toews is the the acclaimed author of books like A Complicated Kindness and All My Puny Sorrows. She is an exquisite writer with, as it turns out, exquisite taste in books. We asked the 2016 Writers' Trust fellow to tell us about the books that have shaped her life and she responded with five: "I've selected these books because they all came to me, like gifts, surprisingly, when I needed them."

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

A film adaptation of Harriet the Spy starring Michelle Trachtenberg came out in 1996. (Paramount Pictures, Puffin Modern Classics)

"Harriet was the first cool female protagonist I'd ever encountered. A sad but feisty loner who wanted to be a writer, who spied on people and took notes, and had to apologize for hurting people's feelings appealed to the embryonic writer inside of me."

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013. (The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito/Penguin Modern Classics)

"I snuck into my sister's bedroom, after she had left for university, and read Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro. It made me feel close to my sister, and it made me feel strong. I was 12."

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1939. (Associated Press/Penguin Classics)

"The scene where Rose O'Sharon breastfeeds the starving old man after losing her baby: such compassion and kindness. So horrifying, I had never read something so intimate, so beautiful, so many things at once. I became aware of what was possible with words."

Reading Writing by Julien Gracq 

Reading Writing was published in 1980 and translated into English in 2006 by Jeanine Herman. ( Point Press)

"The hardest time of my life... deeply depressed, despairing, Reading Writing reminded me, in beautiful language, of what I do and why I do it. This book said to me, get up and do your thing."

Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich

Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich won the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature. (Reuters/Random House)

"This book is about post-Soviet life... long monologues of ordinary people speaking so eloquently and passionately about love and war and terror and family. Russians talking about their souls."