David’s Favourite Books

January 20th, 2012 4 comments

The only two books in the house when David was growing up were the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. He used to read the Bible aloud to his Granny French, who was losing her sight — David said she was particularly fond of “The Song of Solomon.” David often spoke about the beauty of the poetry in the King James version, and you can see the influence of it on his own work.

He discovered fiction when he was in Grade Eight. Before then he’d been far more interested in sports than literature, but one day when he was acting up in class, his exasperated teacher told him to go get a book and to sit down and read it. David happened to pull Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from the shelf…and he was hooked; he loved Twain from that moment forward. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that we have two huge Twain compendiums on our bookshelves! I’m sorry David never got a chance to read the recently released Twain autobiography, which I’m sure he would have been very interested in. Reading Twain really did change his life — he said that before he’d even finished Tom Sawyer, not only did he know he wanted to be a writer, he knew that he was one.

David’s next big literary influence was Jack London. After reading his way through London’s adventure novels, David decided to head out on an adventure of his own. He and a friend hitchhiked to Vancouver, hoping to get work on a tramp steamer. David was seventeen at the time! Unfortunately (or fortunately,) the only job he could manage to land was working on one of the local ferries – and that came to an abrupt end when authorities discovered he’d lied about his age. He made it back home to Toronto in time for school in the fall.

In his 20s, David idolized Hemingway. He finally did make a sea voyage, and spent a month in Paris, where he lived on one meal a day (breakfast, which was included with his accommodation,) and retraced the steps of Hemingway and other “Lost Generation” writers like Fitzgerald, Callaghan, and John Glassco. As a young man David wrote a novel that was much influenced by Hemingway. It’s never been published, but it’s a wonderful bildungsroman about a group of friends who travel from Toronto to Carnaval in Quebec City.

Anton Chekhov

David read plays and books about playwrights, including everything he could get his hands on about Shakespeare’s life and work. When he talked to playwriting students David would ask them which playwrights they admired — and he was frequently irritated when they couldn’t come up with more than one or two names. He used to say that reading good plays was one of the best ways to learn how to write them. Sometimes David would take a break from working and walk to Theatrebooks to buy whatever plays looked new and interesting. He had a comprehensive collection of drama, from Aeschylus to Neil Labute, and everything in between. Chekhov, to whom David is sometimes compared, was a particular favourite.

Stephen King

Stephen King was one of David’s favourite contemporary authors. He liked Salem’s Lot in particular, and bought each new book in hardcover as soon as it appeared. I read the new one (11/22/63) a couple of months ago, and all the while I kept thinking about how he would have enjoyed it. David also loved mysteries, and there are a lot of those on our shelves, too — PD James, Peter Robinson, Giles Blunt, Rennie Airth, and many more. David was working on a mystery set in a small Ontario town before he got sick, and having a lot of fun writing it.

Near the end, David was having trouble with his eyes, so we started reading books aloud together. We finished Faulkner’s Light In August while riding out chemotherapy side effects…and we were about halfway through Treasure Island when he died.

There were, of course, so many other books David loved…the books I love best are the ones that have “David French” on the spine.

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