Incomplete list: Claudia Rankin, Ann Carson, Maggie Nelson, Yuri Herrera, Zadie Smith, Diane Williams, Valeria Luiselli, Olga Tokarczuk, Rachel Kushner, Elena Ferrante, Ben Lerner, Carmen Maria Machado, Joy Williams, Hanif Abdullaqb, Nual Al-Sadir, Robin Coste-Ruiz, Natalie Diaz, Ocean Vuong, Sharon Olds, Morgan Parker, Tommy Pico, Terrence Hayes, Ada Limon, Tracy K. Smith, Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, Paula Vogel, Svetlana Alexievich, Rachel Aviv, Ed Yung, Matthew Desmond, Alexandra Kleeman, Susan Choi, Chris Ware, Tommy Orange, Javier Zamora, Jenny Ofhir, Annie Arnaud, Anne Enright, Lydia Davis, Raven Leilani, Mark Z. Danielewski, Jennifer Egan, George Sanders. I can’t believe I share the same era with all of these people.
What was the last book you read that made you cry?
Kaveh Akbar’s “Calling a wolf a wolf”, especially the penultimate verse “I will not lie to this plague of gratitude”. Akbar alchemizes pain into beautiful lines one after another, but it was an unexpected awakening of hope that brought me to tears. In this poem, the speaker is struck by a newfound ‘plague of gratitude’. The speaker says: “Not so long ago it was difficult to even hug… you had to learn to love one person at a time/sing.” hey didddle didddle do you torture me a little bit … now I’m cheerful/Germanic like a drawer full of strudels. Akbar describes it as a small psychological sanctuary, a permanent or temporary liberation from whatever has hitherto plagued the speaker. This poem depressed me with the first miraculous glimmer of hope after a long storm of brain chemistry. A moment that reminds me of the fun that just exists.
What was the last book that infuriated you?
A lot comes to mind. Do you think I’m often enraged? I am currently reading three of his impeccably researched pieces of non-fiction that convey previously amorphous concerns. Poverty in America, by Matthew Desmond, examines structurally engineered poverty. One of the many memorable facts he describes in the book is that he spends more than twice as much as America spends on national defense on tax breaks for the upper class. Reading The Empire of Pain by Patrick Laden Keefe makes me angry about the Sacklers, of course, but more generally about how vulnerable our healthcare and pharmaceutical systems are to the bad guys. , or worse, anger that poorly regulated capitalism encourages the bad guys to do harm. . Bryan Christian’s The Alignment Problem enrages the short-sighted tech boys currently seeking immortality and god-like dominance in an effort to summon the existential threat of artificial general intelligence to the world. They are encouraged by the lack of legal restrictions and the primitive excuse that they will do it if we don’t do it first.
What books would people be surprised to have on your bookshelf?
My family is always amazed at how many books I have collected on neuroscience and quantum physics. They like to remind me that I’m bad at science. Perhaps most astonishing is the delusion that one day I’ll read all of Ian McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things, a blend of neuroscience, metaphysics, and epistemology about the hemispheres and nature of the brain. is what I still hold. Consciousness. I think you will start floating as soon as you are done.
What is the best book you have ever received as a gift?
When I graduated college, my good friend Alex gave me a beautiful, professionally bound copy of a novel I had written for my thesis. He even had a mutual friend of his advertise it. The novella itself is a disaster. It’s a chaotic tale about four characters from different centuries with shared omniscient narration who meet in a purgatory akin to post-industrial Indiana. It ends up in metafictional chaos. The project was flawed, but I transferred her 21-year-old spirit to the page. Alex wished he could hold a leather-bound copy of this work and see my name engraved in gold on the spine. , the psychological chasm between the life I had and the life I wanted would begin to close. After years of submitting novels, getting rejected, and losing confidence that I would ever be able to publish it, one look at this book on the shelf and its presence nourished me. . It is one of the most precious gifts I have ever received.