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.
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.
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.
From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” to Rick Moody’s “Demonology,” Janice Y.K. Lee covers a lot of literary ground in her conversation with host Gail Marie. Reading, for Janice, was “like ice cream” in that she couldn’t get enough. But reading was always her private pleasure: Because her parents read books in Korean, she still doesn’t know what kinds of readers they are.
The award-winning writer Allan Gurganus discovered the library later in life than most writers. “All of the imagination that a lot of people use in reading I used to read the woods.” But he made up for lost time quickly, finishing 1,200 books (and writing book reports on each one) in under four years. He says it saved his life, and after listening to his story, you’ll understand why.
Elizabeth Cox is an award-winning author of several collections of poetry, short stories, and four novels. Her most recent is called “A Question of Mercy.” Long before she won the Robert Penn Warren Award for fiction for her entire body of work, she grew up 100 yards from a library with two older brothers who became poets — Herb Barks and Coleman Barks. You can only imagine the kind of reading life she’s had! Or you can listen to her story right now.