I came to this by way of Dan Wickett over at the Emerging Writers Network, and though I doubt I can limit my responses to just one book, I’m going to try my best.
One Book That Changed My (Writing) Life:
Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. I read this back when I was twenty-three, and at the time, I was most interested in fiction that I would call more language- than story-based (think DeLillo, Gass, Stein, Beckett, etc.). Plainsong had just been nominated for the National Book Award, and I picked it up at the book store and read the first sentence: “Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up.” The language of that first sentence held up to what I preferred at the time, so I bought the book. Once I started reading, though, my interest in the book’s language, though strong, quickly became secondary to my interest in its characters. I read the thing in two days, faster than I think I’d ever read a book in my life, and at one point, when poor Guthrie got in a fight with his nemesis, a smart-ass high school kid, I was literally rooting for Guthrie to win, and feeling it in my gut as he was humiliated. I don’t think I had ever cared so much about the characters of a book, and the way I looked at the characters in my own fiction began to shift.
One Book That I’ve Read More Than Once:
I’ve read very few books more than once, but one I keep returning to is Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West. It blows me away now as much as it did when I first read it as an undergrad.
One Book I’d Want On A Desert Island:
As I said in my little interview at SmokeLong Quarterly, I’d want a big book of stories, and I think Amy Hempel’s Collected Stories would work just fine.
One Book That Made Me Laugh:
Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys. There’s a great line in there about iron filings and (I believe) ground lamb that makes me chuckle just thinking about it.
One Book That Made Me Cry:
Many stories in Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From have moved me to tears over the years, I’m pretty certain, but in a very manly way of course.
One Book That I Wish Had Been Written:
Wickett says: “I sincerely wish Breece D’J Pancake would have held off on putting that rifle into his mouth and continued writing brilliant short stories and maybe even a novel or two.”
I wholly concur with Mr. Wickett. If you haven’t read Pancake, check him out.
One Book That I Wish Had Never Been Written:
If made to reply to this on another day, I could probably come up with a pretty lengthy list of tomes I feel should never have seen the light of day, but right now I’m feeling a little soft and generous, and wishing a book out of existence just doesn’t feel right.
One Book I’m Currently Reading:
Though I said above that I don’t re-read books very often, I recently started re-reading Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, and I’m loving it.
One book I’ve Been Meaning To Read:
Shamefully, I’ve never read anything by Tolstoy. I bought the Oprah’s Book Club version of Anna Karenina several months ago but keep ignoring the thing. I hope to get to it soon.