This week the Debs are to discuss the books & authors that most influenced us. And this is especially difficult, since I love to read, and I am fond of both fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, forms both hybrid and pure journalism.
So many authors, so many books. So little time. But I will try to thank them and tell you why. With regard to my forthcoming debut novel, The Atlas of Reds and Blues, I reside at the intersection of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. It is personal as political, and political as personal. There are flecks of Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever, and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets in the mix. I love these books, for their language, for their stories, for the surprise and the suspense in the plot lines.
With regard to the novel that I was six weeks away from finishing when the Georgia state police raided my house at gunpoint in 2010 and confiscated my computer and most of my work (see joylaskarstory.com for more information), Shadow Gardens, I reside at the intersection of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. There are flecks of Jamaica Kincaid’s My Garden Book, Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Leaving Yuba City in the mix. I love these books, for the river flow of ideas as well as the breath-taking use of language. Shadow Gardens is the book I’m returning to, now that The Atlas of Reds and Blues is on its way. This book, along with my debut novel, is re-imagined and reborn from the ashes of loss, and will be a retelling of Clarissa’s story.
With regard to my novella-in-progress that I also lost in 2010 and had to restart with the tidbits I had previously sent my friends electronically, circa, I reside at the intersection of Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, Carole Maso’s The Art Lover, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, and Lucille Clifton’s The Book of Light. So many great voices, so many great stories reside in these books.
With regard to the poems and short stories and essays and everything else, the following is my heavily abridged list of good books: At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid, Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, American Noise by Campbell McGrath, The Terrible Stories by Lucille Clifton, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, School Figures by Cathy Song, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Head off & Split by Nikki Finney, The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, 1984 & Animal Farm by George Orwell and so many more.
There is a school of thought to be careful of what you read, for your writing will be influenced by the last thing you’ve set your eyes on; but I don’t believe it. I think to be a writer you have to be a reader. A voracious reader. You have to love the language. It has to be an ocean-sized love. It has to be able to carry you. It’s this love that will get you through the rough years, the long stretches of doubt and uncertainty.
Books to consider this week: I’m looking forward to reading my friend Kiese Laymon’s new memoir, Heavy.
Classic book to revisit: Crave Radiance by Elizabeth Alexander.
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