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Nick Farriella's Favorite Books

This month, Sebastian invites Nick Farriella to tell us about his favorite books. Nick is the author of Rules for Escaping: Stories, out now from word west press. Below are his favorite books.


A list of favorite books will always be incomplete. It feels impossible to narrow down the books and authors who influenced me without having to leave some out. So, to side-step this, I’m going to make two lists. (Sorry Peach.) One is just a list of authors themselves who influenced me, of authors who probably influence everyone, so it makes them even harder to write about. Writers like Kafka, John Ashbery, Denis Johnson, Joy Williams, Donald Barthelme, Gaddis, Gass, Lydia Davis, Cormac McCarthy, Grace Paley, Saunders, Dorothy Parker, Dostoyevsky, Julio Cortazar, Ben Marcus, Borges, Manuel Puig, Diane Williams, Tom McGuane, Roth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cynthia Ozick, AM Homes. And the second list, will be the list, the list of books that have impacted me, influenced me, ones I return to when I’m in need of some sort of reassurance, guidance, or therapy. Books that were foundational for me and taught me how to write.

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

When I first read Catcher in the Rye—15, lazy, more like Holden than I care to admit—I hated it. When I read it again—20, depressed—I thought it was a masterpiece. And then I didn’t read anything else by Salinger. Why am I telling you this? Because I was stupid, that’s why. I believed Catcher was it, that there was nothing else in Salinger’s oeuvre worth checking out, because if a guy writes one masterpiece, that must be it, right? Wrong. This is a caution to not be like I was then and read more Salinger. Because it turns out, Catcher was something else entirely, a side bar to what Salinger’s work was mostly about, which was the origins of this guy Seymour Glass and the Glass family. So, in my life—31, less depressed—enters Franny and Zooey which is about Seymour’s siblings Franny and Zooey, and how the family is carrying on after Seymour’s suicide. From the start there’s the slightest metafictional aspect about it; the narrator is one of Seymour’s other brothers, Buddy Glass, who tells us these events based on what he hears from other members of the family and what he imagines happened. It’s so subtle, I’m not quite sure how Salinger pulls it off. The first third of the book follows Franny, meeting her boyfriend for a date at a restaurant and subsequently having some sort of breakdown, and the rest of the novel is the aftermath conversations between Zooey and his mother, and Zooey and Franny. The first thing I loved about the book was how effortlessly Salinger moves through the room, almost play-like, between vivid details and stellar dialogue. Each scene is so intimate and warm, you feel like an extended family member listening in. And that’s what this book is, a close-up of a family and all the intricacies that go on between them, especially through trauma. Within these conversations there is guilt and anxiety, grief, questions about making art, spiritual emptiness, and questions about meaning, but most of all, the complex love that only exists between family members. When I read Franny and Zooey, I am going to it with the same questions I would my own family, and I get different answers each time. At times, I’m Franny, breaking down in search of meaning, and other times I’m Zooey, trying to hold it all together and get on with my creative work.

Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg

Deborah Eisenberg is a master of the short story. I wasn’t aware of this when picking up Twilight of the Superheroes for the first time and I’m kind of glad I wasn’t. Because then I may not have been so surprised, utterly moved, and inspired as deeply as I was. What I found in these odd, subtle stories weren’t characters but real people. And not just intimate portrayals of their lives, but an examination of their thoughts and feelings so up-close, it’s as if Eisenberg surgically removes their brains and hearts and lays them out before you. What is so great about Eisenberg’s style is how little she puts into the expository, how some paragraphs beg a reread just to know who was talking and about what. Instead of being put off by this, it challenged me to read deeper, closer. Her prose demands attention, and you’re rewarded for it. It taught me that you can be challenging and moving at the same time, all while maintaining voice. I learned a lot about structure and the way a story can unfold from these stories. I’m struggling to write about this book, because the book, and perhaps Eisenberg herself, is a bit enigmatic. I feel like I am trying to describe a sunset using numbers. That said, these strange, vivid, funny, existential stories still live with me today, and reach a height I’m constantly striving toward in my own work.

The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim

I’m not really a crier while reading, but there’s something about this collection, especially the story “Another Manhattan” that rips me apart. I think it’s how Antrim balances absurdity and emotional complexity so well, just smashed up so close together on a mirror’s edge. Antrim handles themes of depression, guilt, anxiety, mental illness with grace. This collection inspired me to have no fear when analyzing my own pits of thought and emotion, and that strangeness, surreality, and comedy can have their place next to emotional realism. It’s also full of beautiful prose. Antrim has a distinct poetic voice, just these sentences that unravel, twist, and bend, with great comedic timing. This book is somehow one of the saddest and the funniest books I’ve read.

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

While not my favorite Wallace book (which is probably Oblivion), there’s an innocence to his first novel that keeps me coming back to it. I think because when I first read it, I was blown away by all the different things going on at once. The metafictional structure was interesting to me, because at that time I hadn’t read any novels that played with form and voice the way he does, with sections in all dialogue and from different POVs, all while maintaining the unraveling narrative that mirrors the protagonist’s search for her grandmother, and her own meaning. I never studied Literature in school, so this one opened the doors to the world of Postmodernism for me. I love how many dumb jokes there are in it, and the wordplay especially, along with the satire and black humor. There’s a focus in the prose that is a glimpse of Wallace at his best, and some truly memorable Wallace-esque images and paradoxes. And some of Rick Vigorous’s monologues are the most beautiful writing in his catalog. This novel showed me that you can be philosophical, sincere, and moving, while being fun, satirical, and free on the page. It pains me to think that Wallace might have gotten away from this kind of freedom and fun in his own writing later in his career. Maybe that’s why I’ll always return to this one, to see a young, ambitious master at work.


Sorry for another side-step Peach, but I just couldn’t pick just one book by DeLillo that influenced me. Matter of fact, reader, stop reading this now and pick up his first three books Americana, End Zone, and Great Jones Street, and keep going from there.


"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.


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