|photo: Elaine Batcher
K.D. Miller is the author of All Saints, shortlisted for the 2014 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and longlisted for the 2014 Frank O'Connor Award. Her latest book, Late Breaking (Biblioasis, November 6), is a collection of linked stories based on the paintings of Alex Colville and haunted by the supernatural. She lives in Toronto.
On your nightstand now:
I'm just finishing the novel Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. Next up is a collection of short stories--Florida by Lauren Groff. Meanwhile, each morning I read one chapter of Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I got Anna Sewell's Black Beauty for Christmas when I was eight. It was my first really "grown-up" book--hardcover and over an inch thick! Its narrator, the eponymous black horse (perhaps the most anthropomorphized and articulate animal in literary history) told a tale of Dickensian woe which apparently galvanized the animal rights movement in England. But the book turned me into a genuine, card-carrying, horse-crazy kid. I read every horse book I could get my hands on after that, and even started riding, after a fashion.
Your top five authors:
Alice Munro, Ian McEwan, Elizabeth Strout, William Trevor, Hilary Mantel.
Book you've faked reading:
I don't think I ever have faked reading something. I'm pretty good at refusing to start or finish a book that I just don't want to read. What I used to do in public school, however, was fake not having read something. By the end of each September, I would have gobbled up the class's designated "Reader." This reading ahead would actually have gotten me into trouble--schools were little gulags then. So I would have to disguise my boredom for the rest of the year, and pretend to be reading each assignment for the first time.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. I couldn't believe I was reading a whole book about cephalopods. Montgomery is a wonderful nature writer. She was one of the models for a character in my latest book--a woman who writes about spiders, bats and other things most people want nothing to do with. The Soul of an Octopus is proof that you can write about anything, anything at all, and, provided you do it with sufficient authority and skill, you'll have people turning the pages.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Well, I have a book that I keep on my shelves for the cover, even though I know I will never read it again. When I was 12, my parents gave me a beautifully illustrated (by N.C. Wyeth) edition of The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (another Christmas present.) The cover and the color plates are just breathtaking, and perfect for the story.
Book you hid from your parents:
The Group by Mary McCarthy. I was in my early teens, so it was the mid-'60s. Girls weren't told much in those days, and The Group included a chapter in which a female character loses her virginity. The description of the act was clear and vivid, and gave me exactly the information I needed at the time. It's safe to say that those few pages constituted my sex education.
Book that changed your life:
Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House was the first book of linked short stories I ever encountered. I became a fan of the form, both as a reader and a writer. John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany convinced me that I could brave the wrath of the Uncool Police and start going to church.
Favorite line from a book:
"I don't believe in God, but I miss Him." First sentence of Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes.
Five books you'll never part with:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I have my mother's girlhood copy. She decorated the end papers with pencil sketches of 1920s brides.
Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. My favorite of hers. I treat myself to it every three or so years.
The Unstrung Harp, or, Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel--actually a small book of cartoons by Edward Gorey, about "the unspeakable horror of the literary life." Whenever I finish a book manuscript, I reread this little tome and just howl.
Carnage on the Committee by Ruth Dudley Edwards. Speaking of howling, the deliciously politically incorrect humor of this murder mystery makes it a standout.
Rilke's Book of Hours (Love Poems to God), translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Made me realize for the first time (and each time after) what "authority" means when it comes to writing.