For the December installment of Favorite Books, Sebastian invites Kathryn Scanlan to tell us about her favorite books. Kathryn is the author of Aug 9—Fog and The Dominant Animal. Her third book, Kick the Latch, will be published by New Directions in 2022. She lives in Los Angeles. Below are her favorite books.
Here are a few favorite books, picked at random from lots of other favorite books.
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Swift, vicious, funny, appalling—I’ve studied it, tried to replicate it. Spark’s light-handed control is a delight and so is the way she fucks with her reader:
Lise is lifting the corners of her carefully packed things, as if in absent-minded accompaniment to some thought, who knows what? Who knows her thoughts? Who can tell?
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks
Another one I’m studying—I love its tactile language and how it jumps. It’s a deeply pleasurable book—funny, profound, compressed, filled with the intimate texture of physical life:
“I’ve always lived in steam.” “I’ve always lived in stove.” This man was not a lover of tablecloths, he could eat from a splintery board, he could eat from the earth. The waitress brought coffee, four lumps of sugar wrapped in pink paper, hot mince pie. He had wiped out his nostrils with bits of tissue paper in the presence of his wife and his wife had turned her head, quickly, but politely, to avoid seeing them as they dropped softly into the toilet, and floated.
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson & Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
My high school English teacher was a small, stylish woman in dark clothes, in her fifties or sixties at the time. She was abrupt, eccentric, droll, demanding. She could be harsh. She was known for smoking cigarettes from a long, elegant holder and drinking martinis. I read both of the above in her class—alongside Gilgamesh and The Waste Land. I reread them periodically and I continue to think of them—and of her—often.
David Hammons: Bliz-aard Ball Sale by Elena Filipovic
It’s part of a series published by Afterall in which one influential artwork is given a wide-ranging, full-text treatment. I’ve liked the others I’ve read, but this one is special. For 138 pages, punctuated by a lot of excellent archival photographs, Filipovic chases the artwork in question—a street sale of snowballs in New York in 1983—as well as Hammons himself, the elusive genius. It makes me remember (if I’ve forgotten) what excites me most in art.
Oak Mot by Crispin Glover
I bought a copy of this about 20 years ago and it was the first book I saw—I think—that was using erasure and collage to alter an old text in the public domain. At some point I sold it because I needed the money and it was collectible—but I remember the handsome quality of the pages and the pleasure of looking through them. I remember being interested in Glover’s eccentric handwriting, which reminded me of handwriting I’d seen from the 19th century—it has a different shape and energy. I looked up the book just now and it appears copies are available on Glover’s website. I might mail in with a money order and get one.
Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories by Taeko Kono (translated by Lucy North)
They’re horror stories about domestic life and sexuality, told in a cool, measured voice. The atmosphere of the first, “Night Journey,” stays with me like a living thing—or it struck some feeling I already had, and amplified it:
Fukuko realized that she’d been in a particular mood for some time now, a mood that would keep her walking beside Murao into the night, walking on and on until they became the perpetrators—or the victims—of some unpredictable crime.
The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel
I brought this with me to Michigan, where I worked for a summer as a cook at an artist’s colony. I lived in a little blue cabin—just a bed and a dresser—and read it in the afternoons and evenings (I got up at five to make breakfast). I hated all the stories I’d written previously and was trying to find a new way to write. This book helped me get where I wanted to go.
"Favorite Books with Sebastian Castillo" is our monthly column in which previous contributors and friends of Peach Mag are invited to share the works of literature that have made the biggest impacts on their reading and writing lives. Sebastian is the author of Not I and 49 Venezuelan Novels. Read previous installments of Favorite Books here.