Jennifer McGillivray is the Executive Director of the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra and she sat down with me at the South End Library to talk about her lifelong love affair with books. As someone who has read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl some 300 odd times but who doesn’t feel compelled to finish a book she doesn’t like, Jenn has read quite a few tales in her time. We were happy she decided to share a few favourites from her book list with us.

The Greater Sudbury Public Library has recently launched another season of programs and events. Book Clubs take place at the South End, New Sudbury, Dowling and Main Library throughout this month. The Read-a-LattΓ© Book Club (which rotates at various coffee shops in Sudbury) meets this month at the Cedar Nest (11 Cedar Street) on January 18 at 6:30 p.m. For more details visit

Were you a reader growing up?

Yes, I read a lot when I was young. My mom was a teacher so we always had books in the house. I had an older brother by 3 years and so when my parents would read books to me, I would see him reading his own books to himself and I was really jealous. I wanted to be able to read like that too. So I took a book from the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik and I went through it so many times I would memorize it, and then I would tell my parents that I could read too. I would sit them down and β€˜read it’ out loud to them. They called me out, and I never did get away with it, but it was the first book I read all by myself. I still remember the lines from the Little Bear birthday book that lists the ingredients of the birthday soup: β€œcarrots, potatoes, peas and tomatoes.” As an aside, I ask my husband to make this for me each year on my birthday but it has yet to happen.

How have books affected your life?

I’ve always considered books to be an escape; I guess I have always been a bit of an escapist myself. Books showed me the possibilities of what else was out there. I grew up in a really small town (Elliot Lake) and by the time I was 12 years old, the mines were closing, my friends were leaving and the town was shutting down. Books not only introduced me to the bigger world that was out there but to people who created new worlds to suit them. I loved fantasy books and science fiction like A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and books by Terry Pratchett. In books you always have a new place to go, new things to discover. Books were never censored in my house when I was young so we were able to explore and discover new possibilities with reading.

I read a lot in high school and I loved one book in particular: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I read this first when I was 13 and identified with the kids as boys, I read it again in high school and identified with them as kids growing older, and now I have read it as an adult and identified more with the mother character. It just goes to show that when we read books, we can re-insert ourselves into the different characters as we grow older and experience different stages of life; so that the things we read mean different things at different times of life.

Are there books you read that influence your work at the Sudbury Symphony?

I have read many books on music over the years. Maynard Solomon has written powerful biographies of both Beethoven and Mozart that I enjoyed. For Christmas this year, my husband gave me a great book by one of my favourite fiction authors that links his work with the music world – it is called Absolutely on Music by novelist Haruki Murakami. It is an amazing book that consists of conversations between acclaimed conductor Seiji Ozawa and Murakami – basically these two titans sitting down and talking about music. My other favourite book in this area is one I think all fans of music should read. It is David Byrne’s How Music Worksand I recommend this to anyone who likes music of any kind. It’s a scholarly text about music that reads as a memoir and it’s great.

What kinds of books do you like to read for fun and how do you pick new books to read?

I am a big fan of murder mysteries. Ian Rankin’s Rebus series launched a love of murder mysteries for me that is still going strong. I also love Peter Robinson and David Mitchell. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell fulfills my fantasy book dreams.

I take a lot of chances when it comes to choosing new books to read. Luckily I use the public library ( and Bay Used Book Store ( a lot which means I can afford to take chances! I love talking to the staff at the book store and they can tell me three authors to read based on one that I tell them I just read and liked. I also love the book displays at the libraries – for instance, the display called β€œjudge a book by its cover” has never failed me, I’ve liked every book I have chosen so far. Most of my friends are readers too so this helps in finding new reads too.

What is a fun memory you have of books from when you were young?

When I was growing up in Elliot Lake, we had to drive into Sudbury to purchase back-to-school supplies each year. It was a big treat to get to go to the book store (Coles at the time) and pick out two new books to buy for ourselves. Then, we got to go to Red Lobster for dinner and it was the only time we were able to bring our books in and read at the table in the restaurant. It was this great treat that we loved and looked forward to.

*Books listed in this article in bold are available at the Greater Sudbury Public Library. Titles can be reserved online at and picked up at any one of the 13 library locations.


Jessica Watts is the Coordinator of Outreach, Programs and Partnerships at the Greater Sudbury Public Library. Her job usually involves the parts of the public library that people don't associate with libraries like snowshoes, theatre passes and special events. She loves talking about books, especially over a caramel latte at Salute, and is always in the middle of reading 2 or 3 books at a time.. or, more honestly, 4 or 5!

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