Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is the author of three novels: Bittersweet (May 13, 2014), The Effects of Light (2005) and Set Me Free (2007), which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best book of fiction by an American woman published in 2007. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize, she lives and writes in Brooklyn and Vermont. You can find her on her website, the Bittersweet Booklaunch Blog, and FriendStories.com.
I’m in an odd space with reading at the moment. I’m just starting to write a new book, which means I have to be careful about the language and ideas coming in, because I’m easily swayable (it can throw me off course to digest something at the wrong moment of book gestation). Also, I have Bittersweet coming out very soon, which makes for a chicken-with-its-head-cut-off uneasiness that makes sinking into someone else’s novel challenging. I guess that it’s because I’m stuck in the middle of two big writing moments that I’m reading more than one book (which is unusual for me). Here’s what’s on my nightstand at the moment:
A Taste For Death by P.D. James – My mother reads everything. She got that from my grandmother, who read up until her dying day at 103 (and was hesitant to start a new book that last week of her life because she was afraid she would die before she found out the ending). I consider it to be my great fortune that my mother reads a book a day, which means she’s always got a recommendation. When I was visiting my parents on a recent weekend and in need of a good, gentle read, she handed me this thick P.D. James, which used to be my aforementioned grandmother’s, and said, “This is slow but it’ll suck you in.” I’ve been enjoying a chapter or two before bed, appreciating its rhythm and attention to detail. Also, the language is just fantastic in that British style and tradition.
Possession by A.S. Byatt – This is the third time I’ve read Possession; this time I’m reading it to help me think about the book I’m writing, which also goes back and forth in time, uncovering secrets in the present day, that are, in turn, teased out in the past. Byatt’s book is such a fabulous achievement—I am always blown away by her ability to pull off the poetry! Not only is it historically on pointe, it has all these secrets hidden inside it, which in turn inform the story. Such an accomplishment.
Now I See You by Nicole C. Kear – Full disclosure: Nicole is a friend of mine. But even if I didn’t know her, I would admire this new memoir tremendously for its ability to turn something seemingly tragic (her diagnosis, as a college student, with a degenerative eye disease that would render her blind) into an hysterical romp that makes you laugh until you cry. More than once I’ve found myself gasping for air as she describes being in labor at her Italian family’s Thanksgiving, or wearing a disguise to the Gowanus Canal so she can practice using her cane incognito. I admire writers for whom humor is effortless—it’s just not in my wheelhouse, but it’s something I’m working on (although I find humor ends up being very shy if you try to force it).
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – I was having an angsty moment the other day and pulled this down from my shelf (I’ve read it at least a dozen times, and every time I find something new in it). Word to the wise: don’t read Woolf when you’re feeling blue about the state of the world! She’s just so brilliant, but her darkness finds every open wound on you. Still, I haven’t been able to reshelve it; it’s kind of sitting there staring at me. Woolf by osmosis.
Atonement by Ian McEwan – Also, not a great choice for a blue day. But I thought a lot about this novel when I was writing Bittersweet – the idea of an Edenic place ruined by a single act – and wanted to dip back into it. I suppose this is a real indication of how I read; wanting to be back in the mood of something and then borrowing it for a short time, but not necessarily reading the whole thing from cover to cover. McEwan is currently holding hands with Woolf on my nightstand.
Any authors intertwining fingers on your night stand? If so, what prompted the coupling? Who else is there?