Deep in the quiet stacks were books that hadn’t been read in decades. The books would be so surprised when I took them off the shelf. I would open them up and hear the spine crack like it was clearing its throat and then it would cough out a little puff of dust. They were sort of like finding genie bottles and when you wiped off the dust, a genie would emerge, ready to grant you all sorts of imaginary things.
You uncover a place in the scent of a dish, more absolutely than in a thousand words. Yashim’s work in the kitchen making pilafs and dolmas evokes his city better than any amount of description.
Music came to me in a spotty, haphazard and completely disjointed way, and it wasn’t until a few years ago, when I started writing the novel Monday, Monday, a novel that begins in 1966, that I found I had suddenly tapped into one of the richest veins in American music.
I imagine them driving en masse and on dates into Hollywood to see the Cramps, the Specials, the Blasters, a local rockabilly group from Downey, or the quintessential LA punk band, X, at the Roxy, the Whisky, or Madame Wong’s in Chinatown.
This was not like my grandmother’s other books, classics that felt far removed from my life. Coetzee’s allegory of empire was immediate and timely. It drilled right through my defenses, elevating and shattering me at the same time.
Two particular novels marked me deeply. They focused on the Matter of Britain, that is, King Arthur.
I never consciously thought about Embers during the writing of my own novel Tinderbox, so going back to it now, I am surprised by the depth of its influence on me thematically and structurally.
To step out onto the vast lawn and be greeted by an adorable terrier and three appreciative men—one an English Lord!—and to be deemed interesting . . . why, I could imagine nothing finer. Ah, to be interesting! Interesting!
At first glance, The Complete Cosmicomics might sound as if I’ve plumped for a childhood favourite. The title has the ring of one of those collections of sci-fi picture books which appeal to young boys.
When Mary Kay Zuravleff and Lisa Gornick discovered that both of their novels have psychoanalyzing protagonists, they sat down to discuss literary conception, psychopharmacology, and Jonathan Galassi’s koan.
In grade school, I wrote a yearly book report on From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Although I read plenty of books, there was only one I ever wanted to report on.
My pleasure in The A-Team, Knight Rider and Blue Thunder had more to do with the thrilling hardware, the guns and vehicles I could fantasise about possessing. Afterwards, I went out into the garden full of speed and flight and power. No, stories came later. What I liked reading as a child were facts.
The BSC books were my favorite, and not just because they were distracting and fun (though they were). They gave me a cool, latently feminist model for combining friendship with entrepreneurship that got me started down a path I’m still following today.
This is a New South book, without dreamy nostalgia or olden-times romance—no Mawmaw and her Mason jars, no front porches, no golden late light through the Spanish oaks.
I’m going to read Proust again. I confess that I’ve never made it through the entire series, though I’ve read Swann’s Way twice, and In a Budding Grove once, and I’ve started Sodom and Gomorrah. This time I’m going to read Sodom and Gomorrah and go right on to the end.
For me a holiday is not a chance to switch off, crash out, and dumb down with a blockbuster thriller, but rather a precious opportunity to confront that monumental read that is just too daunting at other times.
I can remember cracking open my first Nancy Drew in the back of a van, winding up a mountain road. That summer, I read one Nancy Drew book after another, ignoring my assigned summer reading.