You are here

What book changed your mind?

 

At Simon Fraser University Library, we believe in the power of books to change minds and transform lives. We are also a curious bunch and so we set out to ask our friends — faculty, staff, alumni, writers, scholars, artists, musicians — to tell us about that one book that changed everything. With gratitude to those who shared their stories with us, we are delighted to spread the joy and share them here with you! We will be adding new stories regularly and hope you'll visit again soon!

 

Jen Sookfong Lee

 

Jen Sookfong Lee

Writer

What book changed your mind?

Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid
Evelyn Lau

“The book that changed my mind was Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid by Evelyn Lau. A memoir of Evelyn's years as a sex worker, this book showed me that the urban, female, Chinese Canadian experience was worth writing and worth reading.”

Am Johal

 

Am Johal

Director of Vancity Office of Community Engagement; Writer

What book changed your mind?

“We change so much over our lifetimes, so the types of books that have changed my mind are also quite different depending on when I read them. I remember being riveted by the Autobiography of Malcolm X early in my university days for its sheer political velocity and tenacity. In elementary school, we read The Outsiders by SE Hinton. In high school, Catcher in the Rye and Frankenstein stand out, and Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks. These days, Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception remains pretty affecting.”

Katherine Collins

 

Katherine Collins

TV writer

What book changed your mind?

American Tabloid
James Elroy

“Elroy's terse, muscular writing captivated me.  His hard-boiled and relentless style convinced me that some of the most suspenseful and emotional storytelling need not come in long, flowery passages of description, but rather in four word sentences.”

Elizabeth Model

 

Elizabeth Model 

Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association CEO; Ironwoman

What book changed your mind?

Shoe Dog
Phil Knight

“A great read for everyone even if you are not in business! It changed my perception of Nike, how the company was built, and the incredible resilience and self-deprecation Phil has displayed.”

Laurie Anderson

 

Laurie Anderson

Executive Director, SFU's Vancouver Campus

What book changed your mind?

Never Cry Wolf
Farley Mowat

“Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf was a game changer for me, as the first ‘Canadian’ book I read as an immigrant back in the 1960's.  Beyond being quintessentially Canadian in its style of humour and in its Arctic context, the book dispelled the myth that wolves were killing off the caribou herds (trappers and hunters were responsible). The book - the first of many to do this - taught me that our assumptions often have no basis in fact.”

Roxanne Panchasi

 

Roxanne Panchasi

Historian; Professor; Podcaster

What book changed your mind?

Wide Sargasso Sea
​Jean Rhys

“When I was maybe 10 or 11, I read Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Bookish and sort of marginal, I wanted to be Jane, thought I was already. And I hoped for a future romance with my very own Rochester, despite (or maybe because of?) what even then seemed to me like a bizarre story, one that wasn’t quite right somehow. In my first year of university, someone told me about Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Pushing the envelope of who I thought I was and who I imagined I might become, Antoinette’s (Bertha’s) story forever wrecked me, in the best and most important ways. A novel about the power and politics of difference, and of narrative itself, Wide Sargasso Sea gifted me questions that I am nowhere near done asking all these years later. And I am still grateful.”

Jonathan Cote

 

Jonathan Coté

Mayor of New Westminster 

What book changed your mind?

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
​Jane Jacobs

“Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities was a very influential book for me and changed the way I viewed cities. It forced me to look at the process of city building through the eyes and perspectives of residents as opposed to looking at it in the abstract.”

Wade Compton

 

Wayde Compton

Writer 

What book changed your mind?

Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues
George Elliott Clarke

“I was in my twenties when I first read Saltwater Spirituals and Deeper Blues, by George Elliott Clarke. That book made me understand my place in Canada, as a person of African descent, in a way I had never thought possible. It gave me permission to centre my own identity in a society that seemed to prefer us on the periphery.”

Amber Dawn

 

Amber Dawn

Writer

What book changed your mind?

Black Wings and Blind Angels 
Sapphire

Most readers know Sapphire from her award-winning novel Push published in 1996 (adapted into the film Precious in 2009). Like Push, Sapphire’s poetry collection Black Wings and Blind Angels traverses themes of racism, racialized violence and familial incest. From attending a few slam poetry bouts in my youth, I had a fledgling idea that poetry could be determined and unashamed, while being finely crafted and rhythmical. Sapphire’s poems positively proved this to me. This book showed me how robust, how truly manifold poetry can be.

 

 

picture of the book who's who in canada with fabric draped around it

 

Chantal Gibson  

Artist, Educator

What book changed your mind?

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye was the first book I read with a fully human, Black female protagonist at the center, one worthy of love, empathy, compassion, and inquiry.  Later, Playing in the Dark, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination helped me see the landscape of racial thinking across Canadian and American literary and historical texts.

Image: C Gibson. Who’s Who in Canada (2015).
Mixed media altered book.

Eleanor Wachtel

 

Eleanor Wachtel 

Host of CBC Radio's Writers & Company and Wachtel on the Arts on IDEAS

What book changed your mind?

An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales
Oliver Sacks

“A humanist neurologist, Sacks was as much metaphysician as physician, bringing compassion as well as astuteness to his accounts of his patients.  He doesn't think of these case histories --from a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome, to an autistic woman with a PhD in animal behaviour, to a blind masseur who suddenly regains his sight-- in terms of their physiological deficits, but as whole and even advantaged in their own way.  In fact, one of the most moving stories, "To See and Not See," revealed that unlike in the Bible or Hollywood movies where sight is restored, the scales fall from their eyes, and all is magically made normal, here Virgil the masseur's life was totally altered and not for the better.  Learning vision was a difficult process and full of upheavals and trauma. I admire work that challenges one's assumptions, especially when it's infused with such humanity.”

 

Vivek Shraya

Vivek Shraya

Artist

What book changed your mind?

The Black Unicorn
Audre Lorde

“When I was working on my first collection of poetry, Even this page is white, I felt incredibly intimidated by the genre of poetry. I consistently felt like a fraud, as though my poetry was too obvious, too elementary. Reading The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde changed my mind. It was not only thrilling to see what was possible through poetry--the emotion and experience that can be conveyed--but it inspired me to explore, experiment and find my own poetic voice.”

Paul Budra

 

Paul Budra

Professor, Shakespearean Scholar

What book changed your mind?

Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism
Neil Nehring

“This book made made me rethink the social significance and political potential of popular culture.”

Gwen Bird

 

Gwen Bird

University Librarian & Dean of Libraries

What book changed your mind?

The Shadow-Maker
Gwendolyn MacEwen

“I was about 13 years old when Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen came to my school as part of an ‘artists in the classroom’ program.  She was a fantastic creature whose voice brought to life gorgeous, cryptic poems. I remember her reading ‘Dark Pines Under Water’ and talking about what had inspired it.  From that moment on, I have understood that books contain the voices of real people, that they allow us to glimpse the world from another person's point of view.  Utter magic."

David Chariandy

 

David Chariandy

Writer, Professor

What book changed your mind?

The Price of the Ticket
James Baldwin

“I discovered this book quite accidentally in a university library during my lonely and sometimes perplexing first year at university.  I pulled the book from the shelf and read the first essay right there standing up, riveted by what I found on the pages. I didn't even have the presence of mind to find a proper seat.  I just sat on the old carpeted floor until the library closed. Baldwin, I imagined, was like me — of a very ordinary background, an outsider to the world of literature.  Yet he had the courage to write about the world as he saw it, the courage to name beauty and injustice in his own peculiar voice.  He allowed me to imagine that I, too, could attempt the same.”

Tariq Ali

 

Tariq Ali

Writer

What book changed your mind?

“No single book had such an effect, but combined it was Isaac Deutscher’s Trosky trilogy, Upton Sinclair’s novels, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’ poetry.”

Sara Quin

 

Sara Quin

Musician

What book changed your mind?

Fall On Your Knees
Ann-Marie MacDonald

"I read this novel in eleventh grade, carrying it through the hallways and sneaking chapters under my desk in Biology and Social Studies. I was mesmerized. It was the first time I had read a story with a same sex relationship in it and I was incredibly moved. It was the beginnings of me understanding alternative identity and that imprinted deeply on me."

Tegan Quin

 

Tegan Quin

Musician

What book changed your mind?

Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy

"Until this book I had avoided - with great vigor - reading anything but contemporary fiction. Night after night I was moved beyond reason that something written 100 years before I existed could be so relatable and I could find so much commonality with the characters and story. It opened up a whole new world of fiction for me."

Renee Sarojini Saklikar

 

Renée Sarojini Saklikar

Author, Poet, Lawyer

What book changed your mind?

ZONG!
M. NourbeSe Philip

"This book, way-finder, shook language into my bones: legal discourse, song, the shards of memory, essay-prose, stories that cannot be told, must be told: this book taught me how to break words, and pick them up again."

Ivan Coyote

 

Ivan Coyote

Writer, Performer

What book changed your mind?

Woman On The Edge of Time
Marge Piercy

“It was the first time I allowed myself to imagine a utopia. A world without gender, a world not ruled by capitalism and greed. I was young, maybe 15 when I read it and it re-wired my political brain.”

Mark Winston

 

Mark Winston

Biologist, Writer

What book changed your mind?

Look Homeward, Angel
Thomas Wolfe

"I read Look Homeward, Angel as a teenager growing up in a monochromatic white bread 1960's suburb, and this chaotic, intense, tumultuous, messy book fueled my adolescent yearning for a life richer than the one I was experiencing. I devoured everything Wolfe wrote, and came out the other side exhilarated with the idea that there was a bigger, more satisfying world outside of my limited experience in suburban America. Wolfe set me on a path to discover it."

Bing Thom

 

Bing Thom

Architect

What book changed you mind?

General System Theory
Ludwig Von Bertalanffy

“As a student, I thought architects designed beautiful building as human enclosures, like designing the shell of a turtle. Reading Ludwig von Bertalanffy's General System Theory in university made me realize that thinking of shells separate from the turtle is a closed system way of thinking. Bertalanffy, a biologist, taught me to think about buildings and inhabitants as an open system, in a symbiotic relationship. This book introduced me to the idea of 'living' buildings that change and mature alongside their inhabitants, able to age gracefully and open for adaptive reuse. True beauty is more than skin deep, it radiates from within.”

Anne Giardini

 

Anne Giardini

Lawyer, Author, 11th Chancellor of SFU

What book changed your mind?

"So many books have changed my mind.  Books are in fact an opportunity to have one’s mind changed.  Alice Munro’s short stories cleared a misconception that novels are a higher form of art.  Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow made me see that changing one’s mind might mean changes on one level of the brain and not on others.  Cheryl Mendelson’s Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House opened me to the pleasures of creating order where we live.  Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique persuaded me of the value of women’s experiences."

Joy Johnson

 

Joy Johnson

Vice-President Research, SFU

What book changed your mind?

The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger

"I read this book in my early teens and it changed my mind about fiction. The character of Holden was very real to me.  For the first time I understood the power words had to bring characters to life and to evoke emotion.  I have loved reading fiction ever since."

Andrew Petter

 

Andrew Petter

President & Vice-Chancellor of SFU

What book changed your mind?

Huey Long
T. Harry Williams

Huey Long by T. Harry Williams made me realize that a well written biography, particularly a political biography, can be as gripping and engrossing as fiction.  After reading this, Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All The King’s Men, which drew its inspiration from the life of Huey Long, was a bit of a let-down. It’s the reason I have been a voracious reader of political biography ever since.”