Books·My Life in Books

Terry Fallis on the books that made him a feminist

The author shares 9 books that shaped their life and work.
Terry Fallis is the author of five national bestsellers. His sixth novel is due out May 2017. (Tim Fallis)

Terry Fallis' fifth book, Poles Apart, explores the hilarious pitfalls of sudden internet fame. Everett Kane struggles with keeping his identity — and gender — a secret when his feminist blog, Eve of Equality, becomes the best thing on the web.

Terry has been a favourite among readers who love to laugh since his first novel, The Best Laid Plans, won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal and Canada Reads in 2011. 

Here are the books that touched Terry's life, shaped his writing and founded his feminism.

Pilot Jack Knight by A.M. Anderson and R.E. Johnson

Jack Knight was the inspiration for A.M. Anderson and R.E. Johnson's book Pilot jack Knight. (Wheeler Publishing Company)

"I read Pilot Jack Knight by A.M. Anderson and R.E. Johnson when I was about nine years old. It's about an American pilot in the early days of aviation. He was so talented that he was denied the chance to fight overseas in the First World War and stayed stateside to train air force pilots. After the war, he helped start the Air Mail service in the U.S. I cried when his best friend, another pilot, was killed in a plane crash. It was completely unexpected. At my age then, I did not know that words on a page could make me cry. I learned."

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician and the creator of the Sherlock Holmes character. (Bantam Classics)

"Thirty years ago, I bought a 1930 Doubleday/Garden City Books edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read it first for the intellectual labyrinth Doyle created in each story. I kept on reading it, over and over again, because of his skill as a prose stylist. I just loved his sentences. Some of them are complex and intricate. Others are short and spare. But almost all of them are beautiful and perfectly suited to the storytelling. Every year I return to Sherlock Holmes and every year I fall headlong into the sentences and the stories."

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

Robertson Davies was a Governor General's Literary Award winner and a Companion of the Order of Canada. (Penguin Classics)

"Beyond high school English class, I was really more of a nonfiction reader until my late twenties. Yes, I know. What a philistine! But it was Fifth Business by Robertson Davies that opened my eyes and mind to CanLit. It was wry, thoughtful, quiet, moving and so exquisitely written. I was hooked. I quickly powered through the rest of the Deptford trilogy and every other one of his novels. It was really the book that returned me to the fiction fold."

Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler

Mordecai Richler is the author of Solomon Gursky Was Here. (Horst Ehricht/Library and Archives Canada/Penguin Canada)

"After reading Robertson Davies, I went on to read Mordecai Richler. I enjoyed all of his books, but I was particularly smitten with Solomon Gursky Was Here. What a sweeping tale it weaves of rum running and the Arctic, and so much more. Richler's characters are so alive and larger than life. I miss his acerbic and acidic prose."

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

John Irving is an author and Academy Award winning screenwriter. (Elisa Cabot/HarperCollins)

"Though I've never met him, John Irving has been a mentor to me, as I'm sure he's been for many writers. If pressed, under threat of death or even modest pain, I'd confess that A Prayer for Owen Meany is perhaps my favourite novel. I know that because I read it once back in the late 1980s, and was so struck by it that I've been scared to read it a second time in case it doesn't live up to the standard of my first reading. One day I'll read it again. Of course, I've read and loved the rest of Irving's canon. His writing taught me many things, but perhaps most importantly, the power of juxtaposing humour and pathos, and sometimes rubbing them right up against one another."

The Bandy Papers series by Donald Jack

Donald Jack is the author of the The Brandy Papers series. (Ashley Colour/McClelland & Stewart)

"About 20 years ago, I tore through the series of books collectively known as The Bandy Papers. There are nine hilarious books in the series written by the late great Canadian writer Donald Jack. The first, Three Cheers for Me, published in 1973, introduced me to the narrator, Bartholomew Bandy, a horse-faced farm boy from Eastern Ontario. He goes off to war, first in the infantry, and then as a fighter pilot. Bandy blunders into and out of trouble, seldom if ever noticing the mayhem he always leaves in his wake. He is funny, fearless, charming, aggravating and often utterly oblivious. That's his real charm and the books' secret humour weapon. I love all nine of these books, three of which won Leacock Medals. It was after reading The Bandy Papers that I decided that one day I might try my hand at writing a funny novel."

Women and Children First by Michele Landsberg, The Women's History of the World by Rosalind Miles and The Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill, Michele Landsberg, Rosalind Miles have all written feminist works. (London Stereoscopic Company/Don Dixon/

"I had a feminist awakening of sorts while a foot soldier in the national student movement in my early twenties. My interest in gender equality stayed with me, and features quite prominently in my new novel, Poles Apart. Michele Landsberg's book, Women and Children First (1983), was one of the first feminist books I read and it rocked me. I remember thinking, perhaps naively, that if every man could read this book, we just might be able to make some progress towards equality. It is persuasive, powerfully written and regrettably now difficult to find. It deserves a wider audience. Rosalind Miles wrote a great book called The Women's History of the World, which lays out how the role of women has been studiously overlooked, perhaps even suppressed, by historians. It effectively sets the record straight and gives women their due in human history. Finally, in 1987, two days before I was married, I stumbled upon and snapped up a first edition of John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women. This early feminist tract, jointly written with his wife, Harriett Taylor Mill, was first published in 1869 yet still speaks eloquently about gender inequality and the great cost of its perpetuation. This treasured slim volume of mine actually makes an appearance in Poles Apart."


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