Although this month is devoted to reading, I like to spend the whole year immersed in any number of good books.
The act of turning a page, feeling the paper brush through the fingers as you get more and more absorbed in the story, is just not the same with an e-reader, but that’s for another column.
This one is devoted to the love of books and those who write them.
With the Okanagan Regional Library’s Okanagan Reads campaign as well as CBC’s annual homage to authors and literature with Canada Reads upon us, many book lovers across this glorious nation of ours are talking about their favourite authors, be they Canadian or not.
It has me thinking of the author who has had the most influence on me since I started thinking about becoming a writer myself.
Although I owe most of my childhood whiling away hours to the yellow-spined novels of Carolyn Keane (yes, creator of that awesome sleuth Nancy Drew) and my adolescent years to Judy Blume, who taught me all I needed to know about puberty (thanks to Are You There God? It’s me Margaret, Deenie and Bubber), I really owe my love of reading and writing to one Canadian in particular.
In high school, one of my English teachers introduced me to his books. Although better known for The Wars, I was introduced to Toronto-born scribe Timothy Findlay through his 1984 novel, Not Wanted on the Voyage.
A post-modern tale taken from the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, but relayed through the wise eyes of a cat named Mottyl, I inhaled everything written by Findlay after that.
Besides Voyage, my Findlay collection would go on to include a smidgen of the man’s work — The Wars, Famous Last Words, Headhunter, She Went Away, The Piano Man’s Daughter, Pilgrim, Dust to Dust — but it’s a very special copy of his second novel, The Butterfly Plague, that I treasure the most.
Inside the jacket cover lies an inscription to yours truly, me.
In 1991, I had the good fortune to meet Findlay, known as “Tiff” to those close to him.
It was while I was a photojournalism student at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ont. I had been given an assignment to photograph a famous Canadian. That was the parameter. The subject had to be Canadian, and famous.
So while my peers sought out the likes of Yousuf Karsh, Oscar Peterson, and Don Cherry, I noticed that Mr. Findlay was about to give an author’s reading at a festival in Toronto, so I wrote to him with my request and sent it to the festival organizers to pass on to him.
As luck would have it, they did. He responded in a letter written in the grace of a Shakespearean actor. (For the record, Findlay was an actor and was one of the original company members of Ontario’s Stratford Festival before taking up the pen.)
I met Findlay and his partner, William Whitehead, one sunny afternoon at their Cannington, Ont. residence, Stone Orchard, where I was regaled with stories while I photographed him in his library.
Coincidently, a documentary film crew was also at the house to film Findlay for an Adrienne Clarkson special.
After a while, Findlay suggested we go outside for a walk, and as we stepped onto the verandah, we were suddenly surrounded by cats of all different colours and sizes. It turned out Findlay and Whitehead had approximately 24 of the furry critters living on their property.
My camera shutter started clicking furiously as the felines settled into their master’s lap and all around him. Nonetheless, I got THE shot, and was then told one of the cats sitting at his feet, an orange tabby, was the inspiration for Mottyl.
I had the opportunity to see Findlay twice after our initial meeting before his death in 2002. And, to this day, I still pick up one of his books and smile at the memory of meeting the man, and the cat, that helped instill in me a love for reading to this day.