With this year’s edition of the Word on the Street festival set to run from September 28 to 30, we asked some of the writers on the wildly diverse 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 Stephen Miller told us. He’s a locally based actor, playwright, and novelist. His latest is the bio-terrorism thriller The Messenger.
Miller will be reading from his work at 3:40 p.m. on September 30, in the Authors Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
I am a fiction writer with training in history and research. I have done theatre and film, and during my career a great many books, films, and dramas have rocked my world, but one of the most significant is a little-known work, The Parable of the Beast, by a man named John Bleibtreu.
The book is a collection of essays, each focusing on one particular animal—slime moulds, cats, whales, et cetera. Each chapter relates animal behaviour to an aspect of human behavior. There was an unforgettable chapter on John Calhoun's famous rat-colony experiments.
I first read this book in 1971, after a brief stint in the U.S. army, and then I read it again. I learned a ton from Bleibtreu, and after reading him felt like I had actually found my place in the universe. I lost that original copy, eventually found another, read it yet again, and wouldn't part with it for the world.