As a writer, I read a lot of books for research, but they seldom reach my night table. That I reserve for books I read solely for pleasure. I usually mix fiction and non-fiction, switching as my mood moves me.
Right now, I’m coming out of an Ernest Hemingway retrospective period, having re-read several of his books in the past year. I am constantly astonished at the power of this man’s sparse language; also at the stark progression of his work, revealing his transition from a mere chronicler in The Sun Also Rises to a sensitive humanist in A Farewell to Arms, the latter perhaps my favourite Hemingway work.
Among non-fiction that’s recently been on my night table, I mustn’t forget two books about the Scots — Ken McGoogan’s How the Scots Invented Canada and T.M. Devine’s globally centred To the Ends of the Earth. Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, the account of U.S. ambassador William Dodd’s time in Germany in the early 1930s, deeply moved me for its hesitant realization of the threat of Nazism. Larson also wrote The Devil in the White City, on crime and life in the Chicago of the 1893 World’s Fair. It’s a book I enjoyed immensely, partly because it is set in the same era as my book Scott Joplin and the Age of Ragtime.
Linden MacIntyre’s Why Men Lie, the third book of his trilogy, gave me much pleasure. As will, I’m sure, Susan Swan’s new novel, The Western Light, which I’m about to start. Having enjoyed all of Guy Vanderhaeghe’s books, I look forward to his next release.
Back to research. For Joey Smallwood: Schemer and Dreamer I of course read early works by Richard Gwyn and Smallwood himself (along with Wayne Johnston’s novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams). But most of my research took place at Memorial University in St. John’s, where I fortunately had access to previously unread Smallwood archives. My next subject, Charles de Gaulle (who had many more connections with Canada than is generally realized) is the focus of hundreds of books, and I have nearly 100 on my reading list. Fascinating facets of this man’s life and his era remain to be explored — and written about.
Ray Argyle’s most recent book is Joey Smallwood: Schemer and Dreamer (Dundurn, 2012).