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Alexi Zentner's Red Letter Day

In today's Red Letter Day, Alexi Zentner, author of The Lobster Kings and Touch, picks books he wants to read as well as those he'd recommend for a student just discovering CanLit, and talks buns, fries, kayaking, and Citizen Kane.


Red Letter Day is the 49th Shelf series where Canadian authors tell us about a dream day where all pleasures are possible, thanks to a combination of extraordinary talent and mad cash.

Today that day is envisioned by Alexi Zentner, author of the just-published novel, The Lobster Kings, and the acclaimed novel, Touch. Reviews of Touch included exclamations like "There isn’t a weak sentence in the book" (Maclean's) "It takes some writers an entire career to write a novel like Touch ... Zentner did it on his first try" (National Post).

Here is the premise: It’s been a good year. Things are looking up. You’ve sold your book, some lucrative foreign rights, and won a few prizes. AND it’s your birthday. It’s time to treat yourself. For once, money is no object. It’s time to go live a little.

And so ...


49th Shelf: You walk (or fly!) to your favourite bookstore (AZ: Words Worth Books in Waterloo, Ontario) and browse the shelves for three books you’ve been meaning to buy. What are they?


49th Shelf: Then you see a struggling student scanning the shelves of the Canadian Literature section. You decide to “pay it forward” and buy three must-read books by Canadian authors to leave anonymously at the counter for the student. What are they?


49th Shelf: You’re a little bushed from all that buying and being considerate. So you’re going to go home, flake out on the couch for a while, and do something to celebrate the birthday. What is it?


AZ: Go kayaking with my kids, read, and then watch Citizen Kane, which I have still never seen.


49th Shelf: Now you’re going to fly ten friends into town and take them out for dinner somewhere special. Where are you going to go? Why?

AZ: In Ithaca, the answer to that one is Fine Line Bistro. Worth it just for the frites. In Toronto, or New York, probably one of the Momofuku restaurants. I’m a sucker for their bun dishes.

49th Shelf: At dinner, that good old question comes up: what would you be if you weren’t a writer?

AZ: I’d be a teacher. I used to think English teacher, but I honestly think I’d like teaching kindergarten or first grade.

49th Shelf: Then they ask you about your latest book. What do you say? How do you describe it in two sentences?

AZ: A riff on King Lear, but following the story of Cordelia Kings, and set in a lobster fishing village on an island off the east coast. The Kings family has been blessed with the bounty of the sea, but every blessing comes with a curse.

49th Shelf: Finally, because you’re the sort of person who puts aside 10% of your income for charity, you decide to spend make a charitable donation. To whom?

AZ: My oldest daughter has been spending a lot of time raising money for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, which serves the area around Ithaca, NY, where I live.

49th Shelf: That night you head to bed a contented person. Only one thing remains: deciding which of your new books you’ll read first until you fall asleep.


AZ: An advance reader copy of Alison Pick’s memoir, Between Gods.



ALEXI ZENTNER's fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Narrative Magazine, Tin House, Slice Magazine, Orion Magazine and other publications. His short story "Touch" was featured in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 where it was chosen by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a jury favourite. His short story "Trapline" was awarded the 2008 Narrative Prize and named to the Best American Short Stories 2009 list of "100 Other Distinguished Stories of 2008." His short stories "Touch" and "The Adjuster" were also selected for "special mention" in the 2008 Pushcart Prize anthology. His debut novel Touch was published in 2011. The Lobster Kings is his second novel. Alexi  was born in Kitchener, Ontario, and currently lives in Ithaca, New York, with his wife and two daughters.

Photo credit: © Laurie Willick 2014.

*See other authors' Red Letter Days, including Kathryn Kuitenbrouer, Eliza Robertson, Jon Paul Fiorentino, and Stephanie Domet.

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