News and Interviews

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Stephen Maher

In Stephen Maher's Salvage (Dundurn Press), Phillip Scarnum thinks he's found a risky but profitable opportunity when he comes across a wrecked lobster boat and decides to haul it in for an impressive salvage fee. Before he can collect his reward for the dangerous venture however, he finds himself identified as a suspect in the murder of a local fisherman. His connection to the fisherman's widow only make things more complicated.

Set along Nova Scotia's South Shore, Salvage is a taut, tightly plotted thriller with a memorable protagonist whose attempts to stay ahead of both the police and the gangsters who descend on the coast following the fisherman's murder will keep readers flipping the pages as fast as possible.

We're happy to welcome Stephen to Open Book today as part of our WAR Series: Writers as Readers, where writers talk to us about the books that have shaped them and their work.

Stephen tells us about overhearing a formative Canadian classic, the mountain of a book that is waiting for him, and the book that called to him from the Colombian jungle.


The WAR Series: Writers as Readers

The first book I remember reading on my own:
I recall being transfixed by a Little Golden Book with pictures of children's sleeping arrangements around the world. When I got a little older, I loved the Freddy the Pig books.

A book that made me cry:
My mom read Anne of Green Gables to my sister when we were young and I believe I may have listened in. One part about Matthew — I don’t want to include any spoilers — I think that part is sad. I was also floored by Charlotte's Web when we did it in school.

The first adult book I read:
We had a copy of Tarzan of the Apes at a family cottage. I remember being captivated by it. I re-read it a few years ago and was sad that I did.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
I think Lucky Jim is the funniest book I’ve ever read. Kingsley Amis’s targets — pompous post-war British stuffed shirts — seem ludicrous in retrospect, but they were real enough when he wrote his book, and his mockery of them, and all human foibles, is somehow transgressive and liberating. I loved it.

The book I have re-read many times:
The Lord of the Rings. I keep going back to it. A lot of the prose is clumsy, but the story, the imaginary world, the themes and the narrative structure keep me returning to it every few years.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
Finnegan’s Wake. I feel like it is waiting for me, like a mountain I might never climb. Also, Infinite Jest.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could:
A French textbook. I regret that I waited until I was 40 to learn French.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
The Deep Blue Goodbye, by John D. MacDonald, and all the books in his Travis McGee series, influenced Salvage — the idea of writing about a guy who lives on a boat and gets into trouble. I think a lot also about the writing of Mordecai Richler and John le Carré, writers who walk the line between thrillers and literature.

The best book I read in the past six months:
I really enjoyed reading Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which was made into a classic film starring Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston. When I did a trek through the jungle in Colombia at Christmas, I had the movie on my mind, so when I came out of the jungle I watched it for the first time in years. I was blown away by how well it held up, and dug up the original novel, by a mysterious writer called B. Traven. I found the novel elemental, elegant, simple and profound, a bit like The Old Man and The Sea. It's too bad his books have been largely forgotten.

The book I plan on reading next:
Barkskins, by Annie Proulx. I've been devoted to Proulx ever since reading The Shipping News. I spent three years in the 1980s working for weekly newspapers in the 1980s, so that book was kind of like reading a story from my own life. I was later blown away by Close Range, which included "Broke Back Mountain", one of the most wrenching and powerful stories I have read in my life. I am really looking forward to Barkskins.

A possible title for my autobiography:
Things Could Be A Lot Worse. It's sort of my motto.

Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.

For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.