This month, Sebastian invites Brooklyn-based poet and writer Sasha Fletcher to tell us about his favorite books. Sasha is most recently the author of the novel Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World (Melville House, 2022). Below are his favorite books.
MY FAVORITE BOOKS I HAVE READ THROUGHOUT MY CAREER LOOSELY IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY CHANGED HOW I THINK AND WRITE WITH SOME NOTES ON HOW AND WHY
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley
I read this and Barthelme at the same time but I’m putting this first because I’m cheating with the Barthelme. The first story’s a banger to the degree that I typed the whole thing up and sent it to everyone I cared about or had a crush on as soon as I read it. I always wanted to write books and this felt like the first time I’d seen stories assembled as a book rather than a collection, where characters recur and the whole world feels shared and larger. Grace Paley is a fucking legend.
Collected Stories of Donald Barthelme by Donald Barthelme
I absolutely have no idea what kind of writer I’d be if I hadn’t read Donald Barthelme. In 2006 everyone wanted me to read a different story thinking it’d be the one that did it for me (they weren’t but they got me there, so). The world is an absurd place, being in love is ridiculous, going to war is demented, everything is so far beyond us, and yet here we are, in love, at war, in the office, forever, until we die, and then our ghosts keep talking, our voices disembodied, and unattributed, wandering through the ether.
Return to the City of White Donkeys by James Tate
This is the first book I read of James Tate and while I don’t know that it’s his best or my favorite, this is the book that showed me that when you want to deal with the surreal you need to deal with it the same way you deal with the mundane which is probably the biggest thing I ever learned from a book.
Europeana by Patrik Ourednik
I love this book so much oh my god. Ostensibly, and actually, a history of the twentieth century, I think it’s out of print now but you can find a chunk of it on Google Books, and I never really know how to explain it. It starts by listing the the average height of each nationality that died at Normandy and then going into who the tallest soldiers in WWI were and then it goes into how the Russian Communists calculated how much fertilizer a square kilometer of corpses would yield and then about the inventions of the tank and of gas and that’s the first page. There are these cute little subject headings in a faint font running in the margins. It covers racism and the invention of the bra and also Barbie and the telephone. It’s an associative history rather than a chronological one, it reads the way you click through Wikipedia or the way we or at least I end up thinking. One thing leads to another and then you have to remember the order in which it did in the world inside and outside your memory. Please Dalkey bring this back.
Speedboat by Renata Adler
Yeah I’m just putting books here that I steal from and I steal from them because they changed my life, because they showed me ways to look at the world that made the world feel, if only for a moment, as though it was new, when it wasn’t, when it was the same, but something in me, now, was made new. I don’t care that Speedboat is about a New York I’ll never know where people still pretty much had the same fucking problems as they do now. How’re you gonna make rent, why are the cops harassing those people, Jesus the size of that rat, we just ate dinner, it was amazing, I love you so much, let’s just talk until we fall asleep, in the morning it’ll be like it used to be, at night we’ll dream of another version of childhood. I love this book.
Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan
The most famous prostitute in town gets up from her grave after 20 years looking the same except that her hair grew. Lightning strikes and dogs cry and everyone throws up and she comes home and meets her final daughter, Beauty, who is or is not a wound. Then we learn her whole life story up to the moment we met her and we’re back in the present and walking around and every time we meet someone we learn their whole life story up until we met them then we’re back in the story and we’re moving forward and the whole book is like this and it never doesn’t take my breath away.
"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.