I don’t have any magic formulas for the books I selected and used as comparable titles — except if you consider reading, as I do, as a superpower. A few years ago I wanted to start sending out my own book. I attempted to take stock of what I loved to read and re-read, the books I kept returning to for inspiration and solace: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Citizen by Claudia Rankine, Leaving Yuba City by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni; then add Bluets by Maggie Nelson and Why Did I Ever by Mary Robison, and of course Dictee, by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.
As a poet and a former newspaper reporter I’ve always been interested in compression and one commonality among all of the books I have just mentioned is brevity.
For years I held up The House on Mango Street as my go-to book: the chapters were short, some bookstores put the novel in two places: fiction and poetry. For the 25th anniversary edition, Cisneros wrote a beautiful essay, and then I spied her novel in the non-fiction section for a time in the local bookstore I frequented. I believe that essay can also be found in her memoir, A House of My Own.
Someone put Mary Robison’s and Maggie Nelson’s books in my hands several years ago, and it was pure joy. I’ve been reading Divakaruni’s novels for years and then a friend mentioned that she had written a book of poetry that might interest me: Leaving Yuba City is just amazing. I went to my first VONA conference at the end of 2015 and one of my classmates mentioned Dictee when I tried to describe the kind of book I was writing. Dictee blew my mind.
Then I came across Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and I felt as though I had been granted permission to finish The Atlas of Reds and Blues, and to include and address uncomfortable but necessary moments of xenophobia and cultural racism.
I tried to convey my joy about these books when I wrote my query letters.
I am forever grateful to Booklist and Donna Seaman for the starred review of The Atlas of Reds and Blues and I was thrilled to see Booklist’s read-alike list recently – stunned to be in the company of so many authors whose work I love and admire.