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 Mark Leiren-Young told us. He’s the author of the Leacock Medal–winning Never Shoot a Stampede Queen, as well as his latest memoir, Free Magic Secrets Revealed. He’ll be reading from his work at 4 p.m. on September 29, in the fest’s Canada Writes Tent outside the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
When I was in high school I had a crush that ruled my world. I scheduled my life so I’d have a chance at bumping into the girl of my dreams, I took advanced-credit summer-school courses in subjects I barely understood because she was a grade ahead of me. And when I saw her reading a thin paperback with a shiny red cover I had to ask what it was. She told me about “Ice Nine” and the end of the world, before finishing with: “It’s funny. You’ll like it.” Then she walked off to meet her Neanderthal date du jour.
I only got the book out of the library so I could discuss it with her, but despite the fact that I’ve always been a painfully slow reader I devoured it in one night. The next day, I went to the school library and took out every other Kurt Vonnegut book they had. Until Cat’s Cradle I thought writing was about showing off your vocabulary. The stories I wrote in Grade 8 had more syllables in each word than this entire paragraph. Cat’s Cradle was responsible for me becoming a writer. It was also responsible for me losing my A in Grade 10 English because my teacher declared all my post-Vonnegut writing “too creative”. So it goes.