The book that changed your life: Bruce Grierson

The annual Word Vancouver festival is back again with a massively varied menu of author readings, workshops, and events, set to run at venues around town from September 24 to 28. 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 books gripped their imaginations early on? Which ones showed them what words can be made to do?

Here’s what Bruce Grierson told us. He’s the Vancouver-based author of such highly regarded nonfiction works as Culture Jam (with Kalle Lasn) and U-Turn. He’ll be reading from his latest, What Makes Olga Run?, at a special Word Vancouver event on September 24 at Banyen Books (3608 West 4th Avenue), starting at 6:30 p.m.

What book inspired me? The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. So much so that had we had sons and not daughters, one of them could very well have been called Milo, after the boy hero of this book that ignited a lifelong love of language. 

In retrospect, TPT was probably a rip-off of Alice in Wonderland. Instead of walking through a looking glass, Milo and his wind-up dog Tock drive a toy car through a magic tollbooth that mysteriously appears in Milo's bedroom one night. But it struck my 10-year-old brain as crazily original. The car is powered by silence; it “goes without saying”. It takes them to the Kingdom of Wisdom, which is populated by idioms. So the pair breakfast on “synonym buns”, and jump to (the Island of) Conclusions. At one point they find a box containing words that answer all the questions that have never been asked. The book made our household safe for puns, which my dad appreciated. Not sure I realized how great the Jules Feiffer illustrations were.