Read All Over: Carleigh Baker


Read All Over celebrates the bookworm in all of us, showcasing readers in Vancouver and the books they love most.
Carleigh Baker is a recent graduate of the Writer’s Studio program at SFU, and winner of subTerrain magazine‘s 2012 Lush Triumphant award for short fiction. She’s working on a novel about honeybees and crystal meth (NOT honeybees on crystal meth) and a collage history of her badass, hard-drinking, war veteran Métis grandmother.

What are you currently reading? Your thoughts on it?

I just finished The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. I love Gonzo journalism and Hunter Thompson. I love it when crazed drug addicts try to take on everything that’s wrong in the world — the white knights of the apocalypse — because they seem as qualified for the job as the next guy. And when you read Thompson, you get to ride side-saddle into the fire. But I really liked Wolfe’s significantly more sober approach to the swinging sixties. He managed to buy in to the movement enough to get inside it, but you could tell he was winking at you the entire time, nudge nudge, woah, like isn’t this trippy? This measure of perspective would have pissed me off at the age that I was probably supposed to read this book, but I’m 35 now. I’m aware that psychedelics didn’t exactly live up to expectation. So when a story like Ken Kesey’s is being related by a relatively sane person, I get the opportunity to look into all the dark corners.

How do you like your books served up best – audio books, graphic novels, used paperbacks, library loaner, e-reader?

I don’t think I’ll ever own an e-reader, and I will never read books on a cell phone. It’s not that I’m a snob or a Luddite, I just don’t want to look at a screen any longer than necessary. Used bookstore finds are great, but my fave books come from the lending library in my old Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood. Some lovely people just set it up one day in their front yard. And there’s always something great there.

What books have changed your life? 

The Acid House, by Irvine Welsh. It introduced me to the challenges of writing about gritty, down-and-out, unlikeable characters, who readers can still relate to. War all the Time, by Bukowski, for the same reason. Loose End, by Ivan Coyote, and Three Songs by Hank Williams by Calvin Wharton, because they use the beautiful simplicity of language to communicate the beautiful complexity of life. Zero pretension. All story. I have to mention The Collected Works of Billy the Kid too. This whole literary collage thing, I think it’s going to be big. Somebody get that guy — Ondaatje — somebody get him a book deal.

The one book you always recommend is?

East is East, by T.C. Boyle. So entertaining, so viciously funny, and the way he handles the topic of racism and cultural bias! Unflinching! This guy writes with wild abandon, he must need a cigarette after finishing off a piece. If you don’t like this book, that’s fine, but we’ll probably never go for drinks.

What writer would you love to see read their work?

I want to hear Gregory Scofield read; I have a bunch of his poetry and I want to hear it in his voice. He writes with wisdom and attitude. He uses a lot of Michif and Cree language in his poems too. I don’t do them justice when I read them aloud.??

What magazines/journals can you not live without?

subTerrain, EVENT, The Malahat Review, and Prism. The list could go on, but these are the three I make an effort to keep up with, probably because they’re the journals I submit my own work to the most. I worked as an editorial intern at EVENT, so I love seeing what they’ve put together every issue.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Timothy Taylor. He was my mentor last year in The Writer’s Studio program at SFU, and I’m back as his assistant this year, still benefiting from his wisdom. He’s helped me hone my writing chops, guided me back into a novel project I’d almost given up on, and inspired me to look at my writing career in a different way. I’m lucky to have had the chance to learn from him.

Your life story is published tomorrow. What’s the title?

Crow with a Paperclip. I feel like if I explain why, I’ll just sound pretentious. I’m sure you get it.