Laura van den Berg makes the time mid-tour to sneak away and answer some questions about the books and nooks that made her the author she is.
Book Keeping: Who is your ideal reader?
Laura van den Berg: Anyone who reads my fiction and sees something of value in it! I feel inexpressively grateful to any reader who takes a chance on one of my books and if something in there speaks to them, then that seems about as ideal as it gets. I know it helps some writers to imagine an ideal reader when they’re working, but I’m the opposite: especially in the early stages of a project it’s really important for me to feel like I’m writing into an abyss, that these words will be swallowed up by space and will be seen by no one. I need to feel that freedom.
BK: What is the question you are asked most frequently about your writing?
LvdB: Sometimes people ask me why I write so much about women—all the stories in my collection, The Isle of Youth, are narrated by women, as is my novel, Find Me—and I’m never quite sure how to answer that question, except to say: why not? Often these are the same people who ask me why I’m not smiling in my author’s photo.
BK: Can you tell us about a book you return to over and over again?
LvdB: One of my all-time favorite books is The Lover by Marguerite Duras and I reread it annually. The Lover has everything I could ever want from a book: stunning language; a singular and flawlessly authoritative voice; a complicated, enigmatic narrator; a vivid relationship to place; daring narrative choices; fearlessness in the face of viciousness and difficulty and deep feeling and big philosophical questions; an ending that will stop your heart.
BK: What’s the last book that made you cry?
LvdB: Miriam Toews’s All My Puny Sorrows destroyed me, in the best way. My husband came home as I was reading the last couple of chapters and found me sobbing on the couch. He thought someone had died! It’s a book about suicide, yes, but All My Puny Sorrows is also very funny and full of love. In the end, it was the love that got me.
BK: What’s your favorite indie bookstore? The most recent book you’ve purchased?
LvdB: I love so many bookstores and it would be near impossible for me to choose a favorite, but I was especially excited to visit Politics & Prose recently (I was there to do an event for Find Me, with my friend Elliott Holt). I lived in Baltimore for three years, from 2010 to 2013, and taught in DC for two of those years, and since Elliott and I were working on our books—her debut novel, You Are One of Them, came out in 2013—at the same time, we would often get together for anxious coffee dates and meals and long drives. We would talk about our work, uncertain of what would happen. More often than not, we would wind up browsing books at Politics & Prose and besides being a gorgeous store with an excellent selection, that space always felt like a haven to me. While I was there last week, I picked up A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor and Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson.
BK: What are you reading now?
LvdB: I’m reading Tom McCarthy’s new novel, Satin Island. I adored Remainder—such a strange, chilly, inventive, oddly moving book—and I’m excited to sink into the world of his latest.
Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida. Her first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Her second collection of stories, The Isle of Youth (published by FSG Originals in 2013), received the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Find Me is her first novel. She lives in the Boston area.
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