Writes as Readers: Sherry J. Lee On Her Favourite Books
Sophie, the young protagonist of author Sherry J. Lee's debut picture book, Going Up! (Kids Can Press), lives in a tall apartment building in the city. On the day of her friend Olive's birthday party, she and her dad take a tray of freshly-baked cookies into the elevator, pressing the button for the tenth floor to go to Olive's apartment. There are lots of stops along the way, and as the elevator fills up with party-goers, we're introduced to the wide variety of people who live in Sophie's building.
Featuring gorgeous, heartfelt illustration by Charlene Chua, Going Up! celebrates the rich cultural diversity of urban life through the excitement and anticipation of a party-bound elevator ride.
We're thrilled to have Sherry at Open Book today as part of our Writers as Readers series, where authors discuss the books they love, the books that shaped them, and the books they think everyone should read. Sherry discusses the octopus that made her cry, cracking up on a Toronto streetcar, and why she doesn't understand the love for Wuthering Heights.
The first book I remember reading on my own:
My sister had borrowed two middle-grade novels by Elizabeth Enright from the library and they were lying around. I picked up the first one, The Saturdays, and read it all the way through. I was a rural kid and this was an urban story set in New York City. My world opened. The next day I read the sequel.
A book that made me cry:
Lilly and the Octopus by Steven Rowley. It caused me to ugly-cry through half a large-sized Kleenex box!
A book that made me laugh out loud:
A friend was crazy for Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, so I read it. I was reading it on the College streetcar and I remember this one chapter hitting my funny bone at just such an angle that it cracked me right up! It was so funny I couldn’t help myself and was laughing hard and loud. (Beer milkshake, Chapter 17.)
The best book I read in the past six months:
Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling by Philip Pullman. This is a collection of essays he’s published and talks he’s given over the years on many subjects pertaining to reading and writing. He lifts the lid on the mystery of storytelling through astute understandings of technicality and possibility while never diminishing the wonder of it all. It felt kind of sacred reading it, I have to say.
The book I plan on reading next:
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which Philip Pullman has described as “a perfect book.”
My go-to recommendation when someone asks for something great to read:
There are two writers I often recommend. First, read anything written by Karl Ove Knausgaard, particularly the My Struggle cycle (with the caveat that it’s not for everyone). If it is for you, you may become obsessed with it. The other writer I recommend whenever I can is Tove Jansson, most famously the author of the Moomin books, some of the best kids books I’ve read, but she’s also written books for adults. The Summer Book, which is currently published by NYRB Classics, is an episodic novel of a relationship between a grandmother and her young granddaughter on an island in the Gulf of Finland over the course of a summer.
The strangest book I've ever read and how I felt about it:
Wuthering Heights is the strangest book I’ve read because it is so beloved by so many, and I am at a loss to explain how this can be. What am I missing? Or what is everyone else missing? Is it not a book about abuse from beginning to end? Is Heathcliff not the best example of toxic masculinity that has every been written? Any insight would be most helpful.
A book I loved that I think has been overlooked:
Can I say two? Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker, and The Graybar Hotel: Stories by Curtis Dawkins.
Sherry Lee lives with her partner, Kevin, on the third floor of a ten-story building in Toronto. Their unit overlooks redbrick houses, backyards and a huge, embracing black walnut tree. It is a wonderful place to live. They walk almost anywhere they need to go, they have a lovely community of friends in their building and nature is abundant in their neighborhood. Sherry's god-dog-child, Livy, lives one floor up with her main human, Daphne. Sherry has worked in the book industry for most of her life and has many books! She has a particularly fabulous library of children's picture books she began collecting many years ago when she worked at The Children's Bookstore.
Sherry's debut picture book, Going Up!, is concerned with many of the things she values most: community, diversity, fun, food and animals! In spite of the fact that she grew up in a beautiful rural setting, she has lived in the city now for much longer. She experiences the city as equally beautiful to the country but in its own unique ways. There are so many different ways to live; welcoming each other with respect is the most important thing of all.