What in the (Warped) World Are You Reading? Claude Lalumière

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What does Margaret Atwood’s birthday have to do with the National Reading Campaign? Nothing, really, but it’s a good excuse to wish one of Canada’s literary icons a Happy Birthday!

It’s not author Claude Lalumière’s birthday, but his thoughts on reading are worth celebrating, too.

Claude Lalumière
Photo: Camille Alexa

Claude Lalumière (lostmyths.net/claude) was born in Montreal, where he spent most of his life, and now lives on the West Coast. Claude was a bookseller from 1986 to 1998; he sold his two bookstores to become a writer and editor. He has edited or co-edited twelve anthologies, including the Aurora Award finalist Tesseracts Twelve: New Novellas of Canadian Fantastic Fiction and the forthcoming Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories, the latter co-edited with Camille Alexa. He’s the author of two books from CZP: the collection Objects of Worship and the mosaic novella The Door to Lost Pages. With Rupert Bottenberg, Claude is the co-creator of the multimedia cryptomythology project, Lost Myths (lostmyths.net).

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: Plumage from Pegasus, a collection of literary satires by Paul Di Filippo.

Q: As a kid, why did you love reading?

A: It showed me that there was more to the world and to life than the mundane tedium presented to me. It nurtured my inner life, making me live more in the world of the imagination than in the real world. Not always a good thing, that, but considering how boring and tedious life around me was at the time, it was a great thing to have reading provide that.

Q: Are there any books that changed your life?

A: That’s a pretty big thing, to claim that a specific something changed your life. My first impulse was to say no — but then the memories of various books harrumphed in the back of my mind … So, in no order whatsoever:

Unquenchable Fire
, by Rachel Pollack. There’s something about that novel that simply won’t let go of my imagination. The semi-eponymous story of my debut collection (“The Object of Worship” in Objects of Worship) is in many ways a response to that novel.

Weird Heroes, edited by Byron Preiss. Billed as “new pulp” for the 1970s, the Weird Heroes series of paperbacks had a deep impact on my imagination. The first Weird Heroes volume is where I first encountered the lunacy of Philip José Farmer, who would go on to become a formative influence on my writing.

Lost Pages, by Paul Di Filippo. This collection contains one of my all-time favourite stories, the gleefully subversive “Campbell’s World” — but more importantly I “borrowed” the title of this book to name the bookshop that serves as the connecting thread in my second book, The Door to Lost Pages.

Interzone: The Second Anthology. In the 1980s and 1990s, the fiction from UK fantasy & SF magazine Interzone was featured in a series of anthologies. The first one I read was the second one; I eventually read, devoured, and loved all of them. Those were the days of David Pringle’s tenure as editor/publisher of the magazine. That was to my mind, the greatest run of any fiction magazine ever. When I started to write, Pringle was still editor/publisher (he has since retired), and my fondest wish was to be part of that conversation, to be an Interzone writer. My dream was fulfilled: my very first fiction sale went to Interzone in 2002. Pringle went on to publish two more of my stories in the span of one year, before ceding the reigns of the magazine.

This Immortal, by Roger Zelazny. It was the first book I read that made me realize that there was more to fiction than the story being told, that something ineffable beyond the plot could be conjured through some strange creative alchemy.

The World Inside, by Robert Silverberg. I’d strayed from reading in my late teens — for any given combination of reasons involving girls, music, parties, poverty — but then my girlfriend at the time took an SF course and was assigned three books to read. I read them, too. One of them was The World Inside, which hit me like a punch in the gut. I spent the next few years reading everything by Silverberg I could get my hands on, and thus internalized important lessons about structure, language, and storytelling.

The Terminal Beach, The Drowned World, Crash, The Complete Stories … four books by my favourite writer ever, J.G. Ballard. Why those four in particular? The Terminal Beach is the first of his collections that I read. The Drowned World and Crash are vastly different novels that each loom extremely large in my imagination as perfect pieces of art, as something to aspire to: The Drowned World for the depth of its evocative imagery, Crash for its unabashed bravura and unflinching courage. The Complete Stories because rereading all of Ballard’s stories in chronological order at a time when I was actively finding my way as a writer was an invaluable experience.

On a different day, I might come up with a different list. These are not necessarily my favourite books, though some of them are, but those that, because of some fortuitous synchronicity, had an impact that changed the course of my reading and/or writing in a significant way.

But I’m back to my original impulse of wanting to say no … because, rereading my answer, these books had a deep impact on my reading and writing life … but on my life in general? I want to say no … but then I remind myself that I have become a writer, and that my entire life as I know it has come to be because of the writing life. So, yes, those books, and so many others, irrevocably changed my life.

As an aside, interpreting your question in a slightly different way: the publication of my first book, Objects of Worship, changed my life more radically than I could ever have imagined. So that book definitely, more than any other, change my life.

Q: Dog-ear-er or non-dog-ear-er?

A: No! Emphatically, NO.

Q: Your favourite fictional hero and/or villain?

A: “Hero” is often used interchangeably with the more generic “protagonist” but I’m glad to see that you’re not doing that here, as you contrast it with “Villain.” Sticking to prose fiction, I’d say that Latro from Gene Wolfe’s Soldier series is my favourite hero. (In comics: the original Captain Marvel from the 1940s; in film, James Bond; on TV, John Drake; in animation, Bugs Bunny.)

Q: Anything else you want to say about reading?

A: I’m huge fan of short fiction. Anthologies and collections are my favourite types of books. Want to discover new writers? Read anthologies, and you’ll be introduced to a variety of voices. You probably won’t like all of them, but you’ll likely love several of them. You’ll discover new writers you might never know about otherwise, leading you down paths that might impact you in ways you could never otherwise imagine.

Thanks Claude! Bugs Bunny is highly underrated as a hero, in my opinion. Glad to see he made your list!
Tomorrow: Rita Moir

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