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The WAR Interview Series: Writers as Readers, with Devon Code

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Journey Prize winner Devon Code moves from the short story to the novel with his newest book, Involuntary Bliss (BookThug). The insight and deft prose that won Code accolades for his short story collection, In a Mist, translate seamlessly to the novel, which tells the story of three friends bonded by the love of a book and then fractured by an accidental death. Part artistic coming of age story and part love letter to Montreal, Involuntary Bliss is self-aware and funny while still resonating deeply. It's a gorgeous debut novel, and one that makes us excited for more prose -- long or short form -- from Devon Code.

Devon Code_Author Photo_Credit Miriam Lopez

We're pleased to have Devon on Open Book today as part of our WAR Series: Writers as Readers, where we ask authors to talk about the books that have shaped them as readers and writers.

Today he tells us about finding The Great One at an elementary school book fair, a great deal on Dickens, and the epic book that influenced him deeply as a writer. 

The first book I remember reading on my own:

No doubt it was a book intended for small children, but what I remember is picking up C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew and dutifully reading aloud every instance of “a” and “the” and using my memory to fill in a rough facsimile of the rest.

A book that made me cry:

Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance; Didier Eribon’s Michel Foucault.

The first adult book I read:

I have a vivid memory of reading Gretzky: An Autobiography (with Rick Reilly) with great enthusiasm at a tender age. I bought it at my elementary school book fair, so I’m not sure if it counts. Shortly after I read a copy of Oliver Twist I bought at a yard sale for a quarter. I was much more dogged and less enthusiastic about reading Dickens than Gretzky/Reilly.

A book that made me laugh out loud:

Laughing out loud at literature is one of life’s great pleasures. Unexpected (or unintended) moments of humour in serious fiction are particularly pleasing. Recently Malcolm Sutton’s Job Shadowing prompted some late-night laughter. I find Lydia Davis’s short stories or Thomas Bernhard’s novels to be reliable sources of both insight and mirth.

The book I have re-read many times:

P.D. Eastman’s Go Dog, Go! to my two-year-old daughter. 

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:

I can’t tell you; it’s too embarrassing.

The book I would give my seventeen-year-old self, if I could:

The unwritten novel I hope to publish to international acclaim ten years from now. This would really kick-start my literary career.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:

It is difficult to answer this with just one title. Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 gave me permission to incorporate considerable narrative digressions while hopefully still keeping the reader along for the ride. 

The best book I read in the past six months:

Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Boyhood Island.

The book I plan on reading next:

Herbert Read’s The Green Child.

A possible title for my autobiography:

Coming up with titles of my unwritten memoirs is one of my favourite pastimes. The current frontrunner is Be That As It May: The Devon Code Story.

Devon Code is the award-winning author of fiction, short stories, and critical reviews. In a Mist, Code’s first collection of short stories, was longlisted for the 2008 ReLit Award and was included on The Globe and Mail’s “Best Books” list. In 2010, Code was the recipient of the Journey Prize for his story “Uncle Oscar.” His reviews of literary fiction have appeared in The Globe and Mail, National Post, Quill & Quire, and Canadian Notes & Queries. Originally from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Code lives in Peterborough, Ontario. Involuntary Bliss is Code’s first novel.

Related reading

Involuntary Bliss

Even in death, he said, the novella’s power would bind us together, all of us who had read it, appealing as it did equally to our emotions and our intellects.

 A bond between three friends forms over a mutual fascination with an obscure Peruvian novella and is fractured by an accidental death. From the streets of Montreal’s Plateau and Latin Quarter to the ruins of Machu Picchu, award-winning author Devon Code’s Involuntary Bliss traces this tragic affinity with dark humour and linguistic verve.

Over one hazy weekend in late August, an unnamed narrator visits his troubled friend James following a gap of many months. The two young men are set adrift in the city by way of James’s memories, which flow out of him as lush set pieces—an affair, a stint volunteering at a children’s hospital, a striptease show—assembling a picture of James’s haunted life in the wake of their close friend’s death.

By turns comic, erotic, tender and harrowing, this freewheeling narrative sees Montreal’s bohemians and biker gangs entwine with psychotropic shamanic practices in the mountains of Peru, in a tale of friendship and mortality as unpredictable as it is true to life.