By the Book: American Vagabond

AA131The writer, painter, bookseller, and perpetually underpaid artist opens up and answers the NY Times “By the Book questionnaire”. Because by the times she’s finally published, it might be too late. 

What books are currently on your nightstand?

My night stand is a stack of books. On top of that, precariously, are stacked more books. I just finished “The Sacrifice” by Joyce Carol Oates, and it was outstanding. Currently I am reading Ron Koertge’s “Sex World”-  a quick, clever book of flash fiction, and a new book called “Mort(e)” about a house cat turned warrior. 

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Haha. Nice try. Here are a few: Joyce Carol Oates, because of the breadth of her work. John Irving, because I never expect to read anything I love quite as much as “A Prayer for Owen Meany”. Tom Robbins because he is the absolute best at what he does. Also, Emily Bronte, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury… Is that enough?

Who are your favorite writers working today?

Didn’t I just answer that? Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Michael Paterniti and Zadie Smith. Ron Rash is also amazing and I love Tom Perrotta. Nobody gets suburbia like Tom Perrotta.

What’s the best short fiction you’ve read recently?

Julia Elliott’s “The Wilds” was fantastic.  

What kinds of stories are you drawn to? And what do you tend to steer clear of?

I’ll read any type of story, as long as it is well written. I love ghost stories with all my heart. I also enjoy a good detective mystery from time to time. Aside from that, I’m drawn to stories about adventure, whether they are true or fiction. I’m drawn to writers who obviously take joy in what they do. I enjoy reading of fantastical places, talking cats, robots learning to love, families breaking apart, food and cooking, humor and of course style. I skip books like “Gone Girl” or “The Girl on the Train”. There is nothing new there for me, and I figure out the twist early on. I also shy away from heavily hyped books because I really like to form my own opinions and that is nearly impossible when “everyone” is talking about a book. I don’t care what a celebrity thinks of a book, or how much buzz it is generating. That’s the kind of nonsense I find dull and boring. 

 Who are your favorite fantasy and horror writers? Which books would you recommend to readers new to those genres?

Any new genre reader should begin with the master: Stephen King, of course. For as prolific as he is, he is underrated. “Salem’s Lot” is one of my favorite books ever. Joyce Carol Oates is another of my favorite horror writers, but she somehow avoided the “genre” designation. Tony Burgess “Pontypool Changes Everything” was a revelation. A zombie novel written in prose! Yes! John Connolly’s “The Book of Lost Things” was a lot of fun as far as fantasy goes, and Michel Faber’s “The Book of Strange New Things” is part scifi, part horror and just unputdownable. 

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

“My Struggle: Book 1”. I found it in a sharing library so I guess I’ll have to read it now. I’m just not that interested in a seven part saga about a guy trying to write a book. I’ve lived that. But people I respect say it’s good, so I’ll give it a shot. Some day.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?

I had parents who took me to the library once a week, and it was always an adventure. I still love wandering around in a nice library. Heck, it doesn’t have to be nice. I’ll wander around a crappy library. Anyway, I loved books of all kinds. I would often curl up on the couch and read for hours on end. I adored any type of mystery, and books with secret worlds. And I was obsessed with the Sunfire Romance series for young girls. My favorite books were “The Phantom Tollbooth”, “A Wrinkle in Time”, “The BFG”, “Watership Down” “Choose Your Own Adventure” books – which are sadly out of print, and “The Boxcar Children” series. I still have fantasies of living in a converted traincar. My favorite characters were Milo from “The Phantom Tollbooth”, Laura Ingalls, Scout, and Sophie from “The BFG”.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

“Still Life With Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Oh man, that’s tough. That feels like a lot of pressure. I get asked for recommendations every day, but choosing a book for the President is a tall order. The first book that springs to mind is Erik Larsen’s “In the Garden of Beasts”. It’s about the US Ambassador to Germany at the time of Hitler’s rise to power. I think the man in power should read a book showing how not to react when a lunatic is about to take control.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Tom Robbins, for sure. He’s hilarious. I had the opportunity to hear him speak last year, and he’s still sharp as ever. Mark Twain, and Dorothy Parker. I think that would be rad.

You could bring three books to a desert island. Which do you choose?

“Anna Karenina”, for sure. I’ve never read it and a desert island seems like the perfect place to do it. It would eat up a ton of my time, but in a good way. Next I’d toy with bringing a book about raft building but ultimately choose “A Prayer for Owen Meany” because I watch a lot of survival shows and I’m confident I could build a solid raft. After I finish Anna Karenina, of course. The third book would have to be “Still Life with Woodpecker” because I can’t imagine a life without that book.

What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?

Oh man. I don’t know. I just read Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck” and I laughed the entire way through it. Also everything David Sedaris has written. Oh! Can he crash my dinner party?

Any book you regretted reading?

I don’t know that I really “regret” anything I’ve read. I feel I’ve wasted my time and been totally annoyed with myself for reading “The Catcher in the Rye” and “The Fountainhead”.

Any book you couldn’t finish?

I put down “The Girl on the Train”. It was too gimmicky for me. Predictable. A far better new thriller is “Descent” by Tim Johnston. But I am pretty good at selecting books for myself, so I try to finish what I start.

What book do you think everyone should read before they die?

“To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee.

Whom would you want to write your life story?

Me. Or David Sedaris.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I don’t know. I think you read the right book at the right time. Or at least, I do. I feel like this is the year for me to tackle “Anna Karenina”, but we’ll see. I’ve never read Moby Dick, but I just don’t want to. There are so many books that I DO want to read, and I guess … I’m fairly well read and I don’t embarrass easily.

What do you plan to read next?

I’ll have to see how I feel at the end of the book I’m reading now. But, On deck is “Werner Herzog: A guide for the perplexed”, or “Some Luck” by Jane Smiley. Or Walter Kirn’s “Blood Will Out”

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