Our favorite authors share their favorite books
You have favorite books, and you have favorite authors. But what about your favorite author's favorite book?
All Things Considered hosts Ailsa Chang, Mary Louise Kelly and Juana Summers asked three authors that exact question, and got them to break down their most beloved reads, as well as how they relate to their own work.
Rax King recommends 'Dancing Queen' by Lisa Carver
As the author of Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture we Have to Offer, Rax King knows the importance of a striking personal essay. To her, Dancing Queen: The Lusty Adventures of Lisa Carver conjures a perfect balance between analysis and an unconventional voice:
"I think that Lisa Carver has - I'm going to use the word warped, but I think that has a negative connotation, and I mean it very positively. She has a really warped view of pop culture and the world and the way people talk to each other. And it really opens your mind to read her. And it's also just so much fun. I mean, it doesn't even feel like you're learning."
King says there are two main draws that have kept her coming back since she first read it in college.
"I think it's sort of the the best entry point of her collections into the wild and warped world of Lisa Carver, really introduces you to the way she looks at things and allows you to get fresh eyes on all sorts of pop culture franchises that you're probably familiar with on one basis or another, but that you've just never looked at the way she's looked at them."
"But something else I think is special about it," continues King, "having read her memoir, is that at the time that she was writing Dancing Queen, which is one of the lightest, most bubbly, effervescent books I've ever read, she was also going through an abusive relationship and having just a really horrible time in life. And I find that juxtaposition really rewarding in a way, because it's so similar to the way that I work. That's my own ticket out of my own head. When something is going horribly wrong in my life is to write about something I love."
"Dancing Queen is a really great object lesson in how great it can be to break all the rules... It's more to my mind like how they make that bright pink amoxicillin for kids so that they'll drink it. They make it taste really good. And reading, Dancing Queen and absorbing the cultural criticism of it is like drinking that delicious amoxicillin.You don't even know that you're treating yourself, you're treating your viewpoint, and you're cracking open your perspective. And that's what I think makes it such a good and unexpected authority. It's an authority that doesn't command that. You respect it. It's just an authority that wants to show you something cool and maybe you will like it."
Elin Hilderbrand recommends 'Family Happiness' by Laurie Colwin
As a prolific reader and author of nearly 30 novels, Elin Hilderbrand is known for her stories that usually take place in the cottages and sprawling beach estates of Nantucket, exploring family, romance, and introspection. To her, the 1982 novel Family Happiness is "sheer perfection," as you follow Polly Demarest, an Upper West Sider who is married with children and simultaneously engaged in an affair with a famous painter in SoHo.
"The novel is about her life and her family, which all seem perfect from the outside. But we, as the reader, know that, in fact, she is tormented. She is torn inside, she references Anna Karenina. I mean, she really feels like a heroine of literary proportion as she conducts this love affair," says Hilderbrand.
"The thing that Laurie Colwin does is she makes the moral ambiguity of the story because Polly is such a likable character.. And the way the moral ambiguity is handled is so brilliant. I can remember the first time I read it. I was so torn because obviously you don't want her to leave her husband, but you also don't want her to leave her lover. And for a person with a regular moral compass, for her to be able to pull this off is so amazing."
Hilderbrand has come back to the novel many times in her career.
"In her book More Home Cooking [Colwin] says, 'What is more interesting than how people live?' And I echo that myself. What is more interesting than how people live? My novels are set at the beach, or they're known as beach books. But I am extremely interested in the specifics of how my characters live and not so much what they wear or what cars they drive, but, you know, their emotions and how they deal with people and what they eat and how they prepare and how they express love. All of those things, but the very specific details about characters that leap off the page in Colwin's book, that is what I try to recreate in my fiction."
Steph Cha recommends 'The Long Goodbye' by Raymond Chandler
As the author of Your House Will Pay, a crime/suspense novel that explores race and identity in early 90s Los Angeles, Steph Cha has a long-held admiration for the titans of her genre, especially Raymond Chandler.
For her, The Long Goodbye is a crime fiction classic that has stuck with her throughout her own career.
The story follows Philip Marlowe, who Cha calls the "quintessential LA private eye," as he involves himself with a married couple facing a lot of problems.
"The husband is an alcoholic writer, much like Raymond Chandler was himself, as well as a drinking buddy of Philip Marlowe's who he ends up liking and trusting, which is something that [Chandler] doesn't really do in his other books," says Cha. "So I think of this one as the one where Philip Marlowe gets his heart broken. And I think for that reason, it has a really strong, lasting resonance for me."
Marlowe's idealism despite the grittiness of the genre is part of why Cha was so drawn to his character.
"He works in this world that's really awful and corrupt, and yet, he's always looking for something redeeming in it. But in this book, he really kind of opens himself up in a way that he doesn't in the others, only to be betrayed and yanked around. And it's depressing. It's juicy. It gives us a really great view onto both his tarnished heart and the rot in LA in the 1950s."
Cha, a Los Angeles native, sets many of her books in the city, and she draws inspiration from Chandler's take.
"I love LA. So I love Chandler because he writes about LA. I don't think Chandler loved LA in the same way that I do, to be honest. He wasn't a native. It was an extremely corrupt place, and he wrote about it without any mercy. And I write in that genre."
"Chandler is more, for me, about the mood he evokes. People will kind of buy what you're selling if you do it well, and that's something that I took away from him."
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