JonArno Lawson The Hobo's Crowbar (Porcupine's Quill) is an infectiously rhythmic collection of children's poetry, filled to the brim with Lawson's trademark (and award-winning) whimsy and wit. The playfulness and apparent love of language that flows through the collection is downright delightful for young readers as well as those older folks amongst us who might just want to join in. Woodcuts by Alec Dempster make a unique visual accompaniment and give a grown-up feel to the clever text.
We're thrilled to have JonArno on Open Book today as part of our WAR: Writers as Readers series, where we ask authors about their most influential, favourite, and memorable reads.
He tells us about the scene so sad it shouldn't have been written, shares some relatable Proust-anxiety (us too!), and tells us which Nobel Laureate wrote the book he loves to read over and over.
The first book I remember reading on my own:
I’m pretty sure it was Peppermint, by Dorothy Grider. It was illustrated by Raymond Burns. It’s one of the best children’s books of all time and I still like reading it. But it might also have been Ant and Bee by Angela Banner (illustrated by Bryan Ward)—another one of the greats that I still enjoy.
A book that made me cry:
Philip Pullman’s Amber Spyglass. That horribly sad scene where Lyra discovers the little boy who’s been permanently separated from his Daemon — it’s too sad. Philip Pullman shouldn’t have written it down or published it.
The first adult book I read:
Were the Bible stories written for adults or children? Probably both. Even so, I would say the Bible stories were the first adult stories I read. I was particularly interested in what went wrong between siblings in the stories; I remember that. I still think about those stories.
A book that made me laugh out loud:
Leaves for the Burning by Mervyn Wall. It’s a bleak book in some ways, but also very, very funny. Idries Shah’s Mulla Nasrudin collections have made me laugh out loud. And since we can all probably do with some more laughter in our reading lives, I’ll also mention that Thomas Bernhard’s My Prizes: An Accounting is very funny.
The book I have re-read many times:
The Sergeant in the Snow by Mario Rigoni Stern is a book I’ve re-read many times. The King and the Corpse by Heinrich Zimmer is another.
A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Proust’s The Remembrance of Things Past. I know I must be missing out.
The book I would give my seventeen-year-old self, if I could:
Idries Shah’s Caravan of Dreams.
A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
Doris Lessing’s African Laughter — a book I re-read every few years. I loved the way Lessing broke the book up into (or formed it up out of) anecdotes, short reflections, little stories. It’s a travel book, but she did a lot in that book to inform and entertain all at once. It made me relax, somehow, as a writer — I saw how it was possible to remain accessible without being predictable.
The best book I read in the past six months:
Oh, that’s hard … but On the Move by Oliver Sacks would be pretty high up there. So would Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History.
The book I plan on reading next:
Robert Twigger’s White Mountain: Real and Imagined Journeys in the Himalayas.
A possible title for my autobiography:
I Regret Everything
Born in Hamilton, Ontario and raised nearby in Dundas, JonArno Lawson is a four-time winner of the Lion and the Unicorn Award for Excellence in North American Children’s Poetry, for Black Stars in a White Night Sky in 2007, in 2009 for A Voweller’s Bestiary, in 2013 for Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box and again in 2014 for Enjoy It While It Hurts. In 2011 his poetry collection Think Again was short-listed for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award. Sidewalk Flowers won the Governor General’s Award for Illustrated Children’s Books in 2015. JonArno lives in Toronto with his wife Amy Freedman and his children Sophie, Ashey and Joseph, all of whom assist the author with phrases, topics and sometimes even complete lines for use in his poems.