My first reading memory
I loved the picture book Story Number 1 by Eugène Ionesco. It showed a ’60s home where dad and mom enjoy a great deal of the high life and are always drunk. Their maid Jacqueline brings them on a huge tray every morning on which their little girl sits among ham, eggs, coffee and postcards.
My favorite book is growing up
I was crazy for dancing as a kid, I hung on ballet shoes. There was just something about show business being the antidote to gentle poverty that appealed heavily. One evening I found Noel Streatfeild in the phone book and called her!
The book that changed me when I was a teenager
I read Robert Musil’s “Confusions of Young Törless” when I was 14, where I heard someone describe it as a “nervous romance. The subject matter was unsettling: sadistic and sexual bullying at the Austro-Hungarian Military Academy for boys, but I was amazed by the quality of the writing. I felt like I was in the hands of a genius.
The writer who changed my mind
Henry James I explained my life. As I remember everything he thought and everything anyone ever said to me, his commitment to presenting the full spectacle of human consciousness makes perfect sense. Soon he became preoccupied with how to be good in the world, without enduring so much pollution that the word “earthly” carries. I also love his fidelity to visualizations that have a temporary quality: the comment you thought you might have heard but never actually uttered, or the moment when you’re sure someone caught you thinking something you’d never think of in a million years…
The book that made me want to be a writer
When I left elementary school, my principal gave me a copy of the Walkabout by James Vance Marshall. Inside, she wrote: “I hope one day I will see one of your writings on the bookseller’s shelves.” I went out.
The book I reread
I always read 77 Dream Songs by John Berryman, rooting for him, despairing of him, and mesmerizing into his strange tender sense while absorbing all the pain and chaos of his days. It evokes the sharpness and splendor of living on the edge of things, and life between your teeth, with Shakespeare as the lifeboat.
Books I could never read again
I read Saul BellowNovels in my twenties and their intense vibrancy and unbridled heroic sweep have stayed with me. I think they will now strike me as sexist and that Bello’s worrisome attitudes toward race will cause me to panic.
The book I discovered later in life
Located largely in Harlem in the 1920s, Jazz Toni Morrison It is a complex, stunning and richly textured novel that draws you deeply into its world that feels as if you were living in a thin-walled apartment next door.
Read my comfort
I go back to Soldiers of Solitude By Patrick Hamilton, Miss Roach’s restrained and valiant adventures in Rosamund Tea Rooms, a small English town guesthouse in 1943, were both exhilarating and frightening. The writing is superb, the careful evocation of wartime accuracy, and Miss Roach is a queen.
The The book I’m reading right now
Annie Erno’s diary the years It has generous lyrical accuracy and not only covers her life, thoughts and hopes but also the wider currents in France from 1941 to 2006. Ernault writes brilliantly about times of extreme, emotional, and material scarcity, but also about the frenzy and fainting of festivities.