The author, whose new novel is '' Night Watch,'' says she is moved by books that use language to convey a writer's specific voice : '' Language is always the living soul of a narrative.''

.- What books are on your night stand?

The sturdy lower shelf holds two stacks of about 15 books each. Among them, Maxwell's slim masterpiece, '' They came Like Swallows '' ; Zola Neale Hurston's '' Barracoon : The Story of the Last Black Cargo,'' based on the life of Oluwale Kosola, the last known surviving victim of the Middle Passage ; Marijane Meaker's [ a.k.a Me. E. Kerr ] ''Highsmith : A Romance of the 1950s ''.

Janet Malcolm's ''Still Pictures ''; Anne Hull's memoir, '' Through the Groves''; the historian Jane Ellen Lewis's '' Family, Slavery and Love in the Early American Republic'' ; Ly Tran's '' House of Sticks '';  Lousie Gluck's '' Winter Recipes From the Collective''.

Claire Keegan's ''Foster'' ; Soren Stockman's '' Elephant '' ; Howard Fishman's '' To anyone Who Ever Asks,'' a study of Connie Converse, a not-quite discovered 1950s folk singer [ perhaps intentionally ] disappeared.

Henry Cole's '' Gravity and Center ; Selected Sonnets, 1994-2022,'' which I am reading back to front - I can't resist moving from the present to the past.

.- What's the last great book you read?

I recently reread [again] the great Elsa Morante's '' History : A Novel '' [ " La Storia '' in Italian], the story of Ida and sons Nino and Useppe in Rome during and after World War II, written to encompass the living history they struggle to survive, yet their lives are the meaning of that history.

I open '' History : A Novel '' and begin reading anywhere - as I do Denis Johnson's Vietnam novel, '' Tree of Smoke '' - for an immersion in an endless, circular truth.

Both books brilliantly illustrate the reality that history tells us the facts, but literature tells us the story.

.- Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

Writing and reading are a form of time travel, an exercise in Henri Bergson's '' simultaneity '' of time.  Books can be sacred objects. My mother and grandmother, whom I never met, picked out my name when my mother was 12.

When I left home for college, my mother gave me my grandmother's dark, narrow, hardcover of Khalil Gibran's '' The Prophet, '' which ends, '' A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me. ''

Beneath words, my grandmother had written, months before her death in 1948, my name with a question mark. Years later in Boulder, Colo., I woke to discover that a candle I'd left flickering had extended a finger of smoke to ''The Prophet,'' jutting out from a top shelf, quite a far above.

The book was so old, and the paper so brittle, that the heat burned a hole through the book cover and Gibran's final page.

I felt us all present in the scorched words at that moment, those who lived, those who were no longer alive, those not yet born.

.- What moves you most in a work of literature?

Language, specific to the writer's voice, rhythmic, weighted, moves me : Language is always the living soul of a narrative.

.- What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors have work stuck with you the most?

I was a compulsive reader, holed up in my little bedroom with '' The Boxcar Children '' and Nancy Drew. We lived on a rural road and my mother bought a book of children's stories from a door-to-door salesman.

It was a red hardcover with line illustrations and stories with morals : A dying boy in a hospital is counseled to '' raise his hand '' if he wants to go with Jesus as the Savior walks the ward that night. The boy manages to prop up his arm on the bedclothes.

A mother leaves her sleeping baby alone [ who does that? ] to do an errand and returns to find her home in flames, but mother love is so strong that she pushes through the police and foremen to perish with her child.

These stories, along with fairy tales like '' The Little Match Girl, '' '' The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf'' and '' The Snow Queen, '' comprised an early psychic map with which to operate in the lush fields and hills-upon-hills of my childhood.

.- You're organising a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Stephen Crane [ '' They feel that they could then be interpreters '' ], Toni Morrison [ '' Love is never any better than the lover '' ].

Frederic Douglass [ '' To be accused was to be convicted '' ]. And my plus-one is Chekhov [ '' A piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star '' ].

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


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