Susan Tepper is the author of six published books. Her current novella Dear Petrov (Pure Slush Books, Australia) takes place in 19th Century Russia during a time of war. Susan is an award-winning author who has received multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize, a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a novel, and Best of the Net nominations. “Let’s Talk,” her monthly column on all things vaguely writerly appears at Black Heart Magazine. FIZZ, her reading series at KGB Bar, NYC, has been running for eight years. Learn more on her website.
My bedside book table became so crowded, the stack started to tilt like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A few years ago I had a little adventure at The Leaning Tower. My husband, camera in hand (a man who at times lives in the land of oblivion), well he stepped over the short iron grating along the grass to get a better shot of the Leaning Tower. In fact he wandered quite a ways onto this big green grassy carpet. Immediately the Italian police were set into action, megaphones blaring for him to get off the grass. It was quite the scene! When a woman nearby commented on the action, I made believe I didn’t know him.
You see, I’m inexplicably drawn to idiosyncratic people, and books that are off the mainstream reader’s radar.
Before my book tower could topple to the floor, I reduced it to five that I simply couldn’t part with, books to invade my dreams.
James Baldwin still figures heavily for me. If Beale Street Could Talk held me in its thrall. In fact it annihilated me. It just crept up, quietly, which is how Baldwin did it. No big loud noises, just the loud interior noise of the human spirit in jeopardy. During a Baldwin book, then after, the story lives on in me. It’s a type of invasion that I can’t explain. Painful, but utterly necessary.
Another book on my seriously reduced pile is Summer by Edith Wharton. Apparently it created quite a stir in its day because Wharton wrote about a young woman’s sexuality in a way that was considered quite risqué for those times. Summer is tame by comparison to how sex and sexuality are dealt with in contemporary books. Wharton is also what I call a “quiet writer” in that she seems to pull you in by a silken rope. Ever so softly you become invested in the tale of Charity Royall and Lucius Harney.
William Trevor is probably the writer who most taught me how to write. Read his collection and it’s better than any college course. He has the craft and the imagination and the gift. The Story of Lucy Gault is extraordinarily sad. It’s all about missed connections and how lives can turn on a dime under such circumstances. It takes place in Ireland during the conflicts and is just amazing. I wanted a different (happy) ending, but Trevor went his own way and thus created a remarkable ending to this book.
For years I’d heard about James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime. I finally got around to reading it, and despite the fact that at times I was totally confused by the narrative, by who was doing what to whom, I was nevertheless mesmerized by the story. It takes place in France and the sexuality, at times, is almost brutal. Yet I came away from this book feeling I’d entered a parallel universe. It pulled at me for a long while, and I plan on re-reading it (probably several more times).
Richard Yates is one of my favorite writers and I just adored his Cold Spring Harbor. For a child of the sixties, it was a book that was utterly relatable. The scenes in Greenwich Village, the bizarre mother, the dysfunction of this particular family as they make their rise in economic ranking, eventually leaving the city to reside in Cold Spring Harbor (a town I know well)——this story held me like glue. Yates’ work is so character driven, and having been an actress for many years, I find I’m drawn to him, as if the book were a play.
My place is on book overload. But these five survived the falling of the Leaning Tower (which the Italians say is going to fall because it was built on soft soil).