Largely self-educated and widely read, Mattilda Berstein Sycamore is wise and whimsical. It’s a magnetic combination. Her reading story takes an important turn when she moves to San Francisco at 19 and meets a vibrant queer community that loves to read as much as she does.
“I really think that being obsessed with books and reading and other people’s stories has had a huge impact on pretty much every aspect of my life,” says journalist and host of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast, Ann Friedman. In this episode of The Spine, hear how she got away with checking out more than the 10 books allowed to children with library cards, how reading bell hooks shaped her understanding of feminism, and which books she did NOT like (hint: anything with petticoats and bonnets).
A mixed-race child of an immigrant, Iain Haley Pollock began reading books his father read as a child, a tradition he carries on with his own kids. Two of the most influential books have been poetry collections, where he was able to discover multiple poets at once. Never underestimate the anthology! His conversation with the host, Gail Marie, ends with the story of how and why he read Malcolm X’s autobiography…as a fourth grader.
Though a citizen of the United States and Austria, author John Wray currently lives in Mexico City. And that is where I spoke with him, via Skype, to talk about his reading life. As a child, he was read to in German. As an adult, he often prefers to read books he finds left outside for anyone to take. And though he prefers fiction, when he’s working on a book, he turns to biographies.
A designer by schooling and trade, Jez Burrows is also a writer who enjoys having fun with words. The books he likes best do, too. In one, letters start disappearing from a plaque on a statue in town, and the residents must do without them, one by one, until only a few are left. Which means the writer does without them as well. In another, originally written in French, the letter E is missing. And guess what? It’s missing in the English translation, too (how did they do that?!). You have probably never heard of some of the books discussed in this episode — so, get your to-read list out.
Critic, poet, and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib remembers “sneak reading” Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” as a freshman in high school, but he quickly grew out of hiding his passion for books. Later in high school, he read Shakespeare, and his musically inclined hear heard the meant-to-be-spoken rhythms in his plays. But music criticism is where he felt spoken to, specifically Lester Bangs, and it this writing that continues to influence his own.
A recipient of both the NYC Emerging Writer’s Fellowship and an Aspen Words scholarship, author Lexi Freiman’s reading life didn’t begin until she discovered plays. Her debut novel, “Inappropriation,” has been described by a reviewer as “intense, crackling, hilarious.” You could say something similar about Lexi herself.
Author Paul Lisicky’s interview was recorded in 2016 when The Spine was a radio program on WHUP FM out of Hillsborough, North Carolina. He’s the author of five books, including “The Narrow Door,” published by Graywolf Press in 2016. A New York Times Editor’s Choice, “The Narrow Door” was named one of the most exciting books of the year by Buzzfeed and one of the best books of the year by Shelf Awareness. Paul is working on a new book, which is coming out in 2020, also from Graywolf. It’s called “Later.” Right now, he’s a Visiting Writer at UT Austin.
Though she created a Twitter feed, @DystopianYA, where she aimed to write the worst young adult novel, author Dana Schwartz actually loves dystopian stories. From Atwood to Gaiman, Bradbury to Card, she covers it all in her conversation with host Gail Marie in this episode of The Spine.
A science fiction and fantasy lover, Tobias Carroll says reading has helped make him more empathic. He is the author of the novel “Reel,” which was named one of 2016’s best books by Nylon, and the collection “Transitory.” During the recording of this episode, Tobias was doing a short residency on Governor’s Island, and he’s the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn.