The book that changed your life: Shaena Lambert
This year, the Word on the Street festival returns with a new moniker—Word Vancouver—and a hugely varied schedule that runs at venues around town from September 25 to 29. As part of the runup, we asked some of the writers on the bill to tell us about the reading experiences that shaped them. Which book left deep impressions early on? Which one overhauled the way they see and think about the world, and set them on a path to a literary life?
Here’s what Shaena Lambert told us. She’s the Vancouver-born author of much-praised work like the novel Radiance and the short stories of The Falling Woman. She’ll be reading from her latest collection, Oh, My Darling, at 4:30 p.m. on September 29, in the fest’s Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
For me it was Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. My mother gave me her copy, an old hardcover with thick soft pages, and illustrations covered in tissue paper. I must have read it eight or nine times. It is about four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—growing up in Victorian-era New England. Louisa May Alcott was an early feminist, something I didn’t realize at the time, and I loved the humane values in the book, instilled by the girls’ mother, the beloved “Marmee”.
But the best part was reading about Jo March, the second-oldest girl: Jo the Tomboy, with fly-away hair and pinafores stained with ink, a passion for justice and a hot temper. Best of all, Jo was a writer. She spent hours sprawled on a tattered couch in the garret, writing stories that she would then try to sell to newspapers and magazines. This thrilled me.
Jo seemed more real than many of the people I knew (and she still does, thinking about her now). This was a revelation: that a character in a book could be realer than a real human being—and that you could love them just as much, or even more.