Books·My Life in Books

Once Upon a Time star Keegan Connor Tracy is a big bookworm — here are 7 books that expanded her worldview

The filmmaker and actor will champion Greenwood by Michael Christie on Canada Reads 2023. The debates take place March 27-30.

The filmmaker and actor will champion Greenwood by Michael Christie on Canada Reads 2023

A book cover featuring a green image of a woman walking in a forest and a photo of a woman with blond hair and a jaunty hat smiling at the camera.
Actor, filmmaker and writer Keegan Connor Tracy is championing the novel Greenwood by Michael Christie. (CBC)

Growing up, Keegan Connor Tracy used books as a refuge and a way to expand her mind beyond the Ontario neighbourhood she grew up in. 

Since then, the actor, director and writer from British Columbia has traversed worlds, starring in the TV show Once Upon a Time as the Blue Fairy and as Belle in Disney's popular Descendents film franchise. She has also appeared in the TV series The Magicians, Bates MotelSupernatural and the horror film Z.

She is the author of the children's book This is a Job for Mommy! Her first short film, the bilingual The Girl/La Fille, won the jury president award at the Galactic Imaginarium Festival and the award for best indie short at the Las Vegas Movie Awards.

Now the filmmaker is set to bring her love for literature to Canada Reads, when she champions Greenwood by Michael Christie

In the lead-up to the great Canadian book debate, Tracy spoke to CBC Books about some of her favourite, mind-expanding books. 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The book cover features a black-and-white close-up photo of a man with his eyes squeezed shut in an expression of pain.
Hanya Yanagihara's novel A Little Life was a finalist for the 2015 Man Booker Prize. (Jenny Westerhoff/Anchor Canada)

"It's a book about relational male relationships. I wept and it changed me significantly because I was so frustrated with the one character who was suffering so much and he would not get help. I was so angry. Then I took a step back and realized, 'You're doing the same thing. Your wounds that remain are blocking you from lots of different areas in your life. You're doing the same thing. You're just not experiencing it as grievously as he is.' 

It made me return to therapy. It forced me to face that I was doing the same thing.- Keegan Connor Tracy

"It made me return to therapy. It forced me to face that I was doing the same thing, and I wasn't healing. The book was life altering because of that.

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng

The book cover features a portrait of an older Asian woman smiling to camera. She has short curled, grey hair and is wearing pearl stud earrings.
Life and Death is a book by Nien Cheng. (Grove Atlantic )

"I read this book 20 years ago. I remember my boyfriend at the time coming home and I was sitting on the floor holding it, sobbing because I could not comprehend that people could be so cruel to each other. 

"It is about the Great Leap Forward and the revolution in China, when people would turn in their neighbours and people were getting sent to gulags out in the countryside, never to be seen again. 

Your consciousness starts to expand outward and you realize there's real hardships out there. It was deeply moving and got me really into reading books about other places.- Keegan Connor Tracy

"I thought I was a hard-done-by Canadian kid. Then suddenly as you grow older — I was in my early 20s — and your consciousness starts to expand outward and you realize there's real hardships out there. 

"It was deeply moving and got me into reading books about other places. I started to read a lot of books about China and the Great Leap Forward at that time. Then I moved into India and Partition and another one I read was First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung. 

"I've never forgotten those series of books. I was a poor kid with a single teenage mother in Ontario. I didn't have the things that the people around me at school had and I truly felt hard done by because I didn't know any better. Now I'm embarrassed at that thought, but your difficulties are yours and then you grow and learn. Those were big books for me."

The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre

The black silhouette of a man in a long overcoat stands on the beach in front of the water.
The Bishop's Man is a book by Linden MacIntyre. (CBC, Random House Canada)

"I grew up Catholic. My parents weren't really religious, but they put me in that system because my mom was always working and my dad was absent.

It really woke me up and that was the beginning of my move away from the church.- Keegan Connor Tracy

"I became inculcated in the church. I think I found a home there. It was so filled with grief, guilt, worry and fear. When I read Trinity by Leon Uris, I saw how it destroyed people. I saw how religion in particular was there to keep women down in particular. The lives, the bodies, the autonomy and the reproductive rights of women was deeply controlled by the church. 

"It woke me up and that was the beginning of my move away from the church. I always say I'm an escaped Catholic. For me, it was a very painful place and I was happy to escape. That was the beginning of it. Then I feel like The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre dives into how culpable the Church is. It just made me so angry."

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The book cover features a brunette woman in a red draped cloth. She has her hands above her head and behind her is a valley with mountains below and clouds above.
The Red Tent is a book by Anita Diamant. (

"I love The Red Tent. It's about the times way, way back. It takes place in the Middle East where, when women were menstruating, they had to be separated from the rest. What they found is that when they went to the red tent, they got to be themselves; they got to speak freely and they got to join in sisterhood. So there was power in it that. 

It brings up all these feminist issues, like bodily autonomy.- Keegan Connor Tracy

"It brings up all these feminist issues, like bodily autonomy and that there shouldn't be any embarrassment, that you shouldn't be shunned when you have your period.

"It just brought up the power of women when they band together."

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The book cover features a young, white girl with her hair in a braid and wearing a pink plaid dress and brown boots is walking side profile along a yellow path beside a blue arch door and wall.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a book by Muriel Barbery. (Getty Images, Europa Editions)

"[The protagonist] is a concierge who is secretly an autodidact genius and nobody in the building appreciates that. Then, she befriends one of the kids in the building who figures out how smart she is. 

"For me, who lived in France, the book calls Paris to mind so vividly and beautifully."

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante

A light-blue book with the text "Elena Ferrante The Neopolitan Novels" is against a light-blue background. "The Neopolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante" is in white text to the right of the book.
The Neapolitan Novels are a four-part series by Elena Ferrante that include the books My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of the Lost Child. (Europa Editions)

"It's a series of four books by Elena Ferrante. It's about the life of women in Neapolitan, Italy in the 1950s.

"It's beautifully evocative of Italy but most especially about the kinds of relationships that were between women and what marriages were like. It's a stunning series of books."

Salem's Lot by Stephen King

The book cover features a black-and-white photo of a gravestone with a hand print on it. Behind the gravestone is a single tree and then behind it is a small stone house.
Salem's Lot is a book by Stephen King. (Shane Leonard, Double Day)

"I read Salem's Lot when I was way too young — it's really scary — but I was a smart kid and I didn't have a lot of friends. So books were my go-to place and I grabbed what was around the house, which was always way too old for me. 

Books were my go-to place and I just grabbed what was around the house, which was always way too old for me.- Keegan Connor Tracy

"People's parents had Stephen King books around in my day. I think there are people who can 'poo poo' it because it's horror but just because it's genre does not mean that they're not worth it."

Tracy's comments have been edited for length and clarity.


Nikky Manfredi is an associate producer at CBC Books. She is a writer, producer and fact-checker based in Toronto.

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