Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to the author of Godshot (out now in paperback), Chelsea Bieker.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Chelsea Bieker: I loved Goosebumps, A Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terabithia, and Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King. I also remember reading Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts as a preteen. There’s never really just one, is there?
BM: Favorite re-read?
CB: Beloved by Toni Morrison. When I have students read it I like to read along with them and I find new dimensions each time. I can say that about all of Toni Morrison’s books.
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
CB: Gosh, I can only say what books I hope mine is in conversation with, what books I read and read again as I wrote: Angels by Denis Johnson, Cruddy by Lynda Barry, and Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx to name a few. White Oleander by Janet Fitch feels connected at the heart to me, too, probably because it was the first book I ever encountered that brought to life my emotions around motherloss so accurately.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
CB: A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, hands down, a million times over. Wow. I felt like I was having a spiritual experience reading this. I felt like I was unlocking new realms of my own self understanding and understanding of human nature. I was so floored reading it on every level; the sentences are so sharp and then there’s this unnamable beauty in the movement of the story, how far reaching and expansive it is, but one of, if not the most, intimate feeling accounts of relationships I have ever read. It’s a book where I have no idea how he did it. The sort of humbling book where I read it and think, I’ll never write something this good but I’ll spend my life trying.
BM: Last book you read?
CB: I have the great fortune to get to sometimes read advance copies of books and drafts of friend’s books and recently I was so enthralled by Mothertrucker by Amy Butcher, a novel draft by Allie Rowbottom (get ready everyone!) and Cultish by Amanda Montell. Oh! And Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. Books that are out right now, I read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer and have just started Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel Moniz.
BM: A book that made you cry?
CB: I cried in a sudden and unexpected jag after reading Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler. In truth, most of the books I really love evoke a cry at the end, I think because when I am truly immersed in a book I am IN IT, the people are real to me and the experience feels hypnotic, and so there’s an energetic outpouring that happens on the last page. It almost feels ceremonious.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
CB: So hard to choose one, but I really adored The Shame by Makenna Goodman.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
CB: The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe.
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
CB: Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown (and “Emergent Strategy”) for about a million reasons. This feels like the required reading we should have been doing in High School but definitely were not. I like to give my students brown’s essays and they always foster such rich discussions about what self care can be and look like, love, activism, and living in this world at this particularly difficult moment.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
CB: I don’t believe I read any of the books I was assigned, not really. I seem to remember Grapes of Wrath pretty well, but the truth is, I spent much more time in the library reading what I wanted based on cover design and squeaking by in English, writing emotional papers and then throwing them away instead of turning them in. Stuff like that. I thought of myself as a writer and wrote quite a lot every day, but that didn’t really translate to my classes. My life changed when I found White Oleander my senior year, though. That year I also had an English teacher who, I think really saw me, and encouraged my writing and that changed me too.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
CB: While there are many stories for children that I love, I want to mention What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. My kids are young but I believe sex education is so important for every age and this book does an amazing job at explaining that inevitable question: “Where do babies come from?” in an inclusive and fun and factual way that feels intellecutally appropriate. I wish I had had books like this as a kid and didn’t have to search”sex” over and over in a nervous terror on the Encarta ’97.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
CB: I think we are all wondering where The Secret History is, right?
Chelsea Bieker is the author of the novel Godshot which is a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, and longlisted for The Center For Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Her story collection, Heartbroke, will be published in April 2022. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Granta, The Cut, McSweeney’s, Lit Hub, Electric Literature, and others. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award and a MacDowell Colony fellowship. Originally from California’s Central Valley, she now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children.
Chelsea Bieker’s Godshot is out now in paperback from Catapult