Books·My Life in Books

Susan Juby: 6 books that shaped my life

The award-winning YA author just released her latest book, The Fashion Committee.
Susan Juby is the author of The Truth Commission. (Delgado Phtography)

Award-winning YA author Susan Juby has written several beloved books, including Alice, I Think and Republic of Dirt, which won the 2015 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Her latest book, The Fashion Committee, follows two teenagers vying for a scholarship to a private art school.

Juby isn't just an avid writer, she's an avid reader too. Below, she shares 6 books that had an impact on her life and work.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell was a naturalist, zookeeper and the author of My Family and Other Animals. (Penguin UK)

This memoir by Gerald Durrell made me see family dysfunction in a new and more positive light. It also affirmed that my obsession with swamps was natural and healthy. I probably read My Family and Other Animals 100 times and each time the longing to move to Corfu and be homeschooled grew stronger. I dreamed of a household visited by mad writers and gentle biologists, a sister with spots and a private tutor who would encourage me spend all my time catching bugs.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger was an American writer best known for his novel, The Catcher in the Rye. (Hulton Archive/Little, Brown And Company)

The Catcher in the Rye was my number one obsession for years, which makes me a big old cliché and it also helps explain why I became a YA writer. Holden Caulfield's overwhelming disappointment with the adult world resonated on the deepest level. The Catcher in the Rye was the book that made me fall in love with the idea of New York City. When I was deep into my troubled teenager thing I comforted myself with the thought that at least I hadn't, like Holden, been expelled from school, run away, hired a sex worker or been beaten up by a pimp. Yet.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Sue Townsend is the author of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4. (HarperTeen)

Sue Townsend's novel about Adrian Mole's agonizing adolescence and his excruciating parents made me happy to be alive and not him. The book demonstrated that the diary format is a perfect vehicle for comedy. I remember laughing until tears soaked the front of my shirt during the scene when Adrian's school goes on a field trip. This book was the one I had in mind when I sat down to write my first novel.

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence is the winner of two Governor General's Awards and the author of The Stone Angel. (McClelland & Stewart)

I read Margaret Laurence's story about 90-year-old Hagar Shipley when I was 15 or 16 and the idea that a person could face death, old, alone and profoundly bitter, was horrifying and also oddly liberating. Maybe I really was going to be obstinate and churlish for my whole life! The jury is still out on that one.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace is the author of Infinite Jest. (Hachette Book Group)

There were entire sections of David Foster Wallace's second novel that I don't have to love or even like. The stuff about tennis, for instance, was impenetrable and his writing about women left me cold. But the parts about addiction and recovery remain some of the best writing I've ever read and my worshipful feelings toward Wallace have never flagged.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Stella Gibbons is the author Cold Comfort Farm. (Tara Heinemann/Longman/Penguin Classics)

Stella Gibbons's 1932 novel parodied romantic notions about country life and the story about the young woman who goes to live with her relatives on their dysfunctional farm was one of the inspirations for my Woefield books. The only comedic masterpieces that rival Cold Comfort Farm are those of P.G. Wodehouse.


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