Tara Ison is the author of A Child Out of Alcatraz which was named as finalist in the Los Angeles Times’ Book Prize for First Fiction in 1998. It has just been released as an ebook on all digital formats. Her other titles include The List, and the forthcoming The Rockaway Stories. She is an Assistant Professor of Fiction at Arizona State University.
Right now, the books by my bed are:
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. I am a Tudor junkie – from Tudor porn (see: Phillipa Gregory) to critical/academic biographies (see: Alison Weir), I’m a sucker for 16th-century geopolitical, religious and sexual intrigue. So why do I find this book unreadable? Stunning opening, gorgeous language, compelling historically-accurate drama…and I cannot get beyond the first 30 pages. But I’m not giving up; it will stay in its anchoring place on my nightstand until I get through it, damn it. (Bring Up the Bodies awaits me, too, this one glaring at me from a bookshelf across the room.)
Sex: A User’s Guide by Stephen Arnott and Death: A User’s Guide by Tom Hickman. These two compact little books (literally, each is only about 4″ x 5″ x 1.5″) are rich, precious bricks of anthropological, physiological, psychological, socio-cultural trivia, told with cheeky English accents and attitudes. The perfect books to riffle through for ten or fifteen engaging minutes before light’s out, no matter how often I’ve already riffled them.
What Maisie Knew by Henry James, and Room, by Emma Donoghue. I’m planning to teach a course next year in writing from a child’s POV – these two “child’s eye” books, spanning over 100 years, seem the perfect places to begin and end.
Heidegger’s Glasses, by Thaisa Frank; Mistaken, by Neil Jordan, Elsewhere, California, by Dana Johnson; The Salt God’s Daughter, by Ilie Ruby. These are recent or forthcoming books from Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press, who are publishing my next novel. Looking forward to getting to know my new siblings.
A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft, Andrea Barrett and Peter Turchi, editors. Peter Turchi’s Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer and Andrea Barrett’s anything are masterpieces—who better to bring us an anthology like this?
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by William Gass. This has been sitting by my bed for over fifteen years. Every time I move, and unpack my boxes of books, it takes up residence on my nightstand. I keep meaning to read it. I feel I should. I feel reading it would validate me as a person of letters, grant literary cred. Have never opened it. I don’t know why. But there it lives.
What books give you literary credibility?