25th Trillium Award

The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Andrew Steinmetz

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Andrew Steinmetz

Ottawa writer Andrew Steinmetz has just been named a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Award for Nonfiction. His book, This Great Escape (Biblioasis), investigates the life of Michael Paryla, the unnamed Jewish actor (and relative of the author) who died shortly after his 57-second role as a Gestapo agent in Hollywood's greatest POW film. Andrew became determined to discover all that he could about Paryla's life, which began in exile and ended in a drug overdose. The jury for the Weston Award credits Andrew's "obsessive, poetic gaze" with creating an "innovative and unexpectedly funny book."

Andrew launches This Great Escape at Ottawa's Raw Sugar Cafe on Thursday, September 19. Visit our Events page for details about what is bound to be a celebratory evening!

In today's edition of The WAR Series (Writers As Readers), Andrew shares the books that have meant the most to him, from Sam-I-Am to Holden to Karenina.

The WAR Series, with Andrew Steinmetz

The first book I remember reading on my own:
Green Eggs and Ham / Dr. Seuss. So very hypnotic — I never even bothered to question why Sam-I-Am is so persistent.

A book that made me cry:
Anna Karenina / Leo Tolstoy. It was neither the many striking scenes nor the plot; it was not Anna?s gruesome fate. It had to be the recognition that Tolstoy?s divine-like ability to delve into the minds of his characters represented a great love of humanity, and reflected the understanding that we are all worth knowing, if not for our virtues, then for our faults.

The first adult book I read:
Cannery Row / John Steinbeck.

A book that made me laugh out loud:
Me Talk Pretty One Day / David Sedaris.

The book I have re-read many times:
The Catcher in the Rye / J.D. Salinger. I read it in high school and got off on Holden?s antihero slang and attitude. I read it in my twenties and appreciated the prose music. I read it recently and foremost I was struck by the allusions to Holden in a mental hospital; it seems pretty plain to me now that Holden is a sensitive kid who is terrified of growing up.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
The Bible.

The book I would give my 17-year-old self, if I could:
Zen Mind, Beginner?s Mind / Shunryu Suzuki.

The best book I read in the past six months:
Zona/ Geoff Dyer. I look forward to Dyer?s every next book the way I used to look forward to a new Tom Waits recording.

The book I plan on reading next:
Buddha / Karen Armstrong

A possible title for my autobiography:
What Happens To Us.

Born in Montréal, Andrew Steinmetz is the author of a memoir (Wardlife) and two collections of poetry (Histories and Hurt Thyself). His novel, Eva?s Threepenny Theatre, tells the story of his great-aunt Eva who performed in one of the first touring productions of Bertolt Brecht?s masterpiece, The Threepenny Opera, in 1928. An unusual fiction about memoir, Eva?s Threepenny Theatre won the 2009 City of Ottawa Book Award and was a finalist for the 2009 Rogers Writers? Trust Fiction Prize. This Great Escape is the nonfiction sequel to that novel. Steinmetz is also the founding editor of Esplanade Books, the fiction imprint at Véhicule Press. Find out more about This Great Escape on his blog.

For more information about This Great Escape please visit the Biblioasis website.

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

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