Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to Costalegre author Courtney Maum.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Courtney Maum: Flutterby by Stephen Cosgrove with illustrations by Robin James. I still have it—I read it to my daughter now. It’s about a bumblebee-sized pegasus who lives on the island of Serendipity but she doesn’t know what her job is. She thinks she is an ant, she thinks she is a butterfly, she finally realizes that she just needs to be herself.
BM: Favorite re-read?
CM: It is Daylight by the poet Arda Collins. I keep it right behind my desk. I re-read poems from it each week. Arda’s aesthetic is so creepy and weird and joyful and singularly unique. I love this godamn book.
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
CM: Well, I can tell you that I would like it to be in conversation with Renata Adler’s Speedboat. The way Renata writes about wealth and ignorance and the flippancy of the privileged is something I was aiming for in Costalegre. Both books have the kind of characters who drop references to Baden Baden and Zabaglione in order to cloak their deepest fears.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
CM: Oh God. Last summer I read The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan. My husband gifted it to me for vacation. This is nota vacation book. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a physical reaction to a novel: I stopped sleeping, my stomach was a mess. This book looks unflinchingly at the violence of slavery and its aftereffects throughout America’s deep south: the reader experiences horrific acts of rage and hatred on black bodies. It’s a difficult read, but it should be difficult.
BM: Last book you read?
CM: Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang, which I loved.
BM: A book that made you cry?
CM: I was lucky enough to read a galley of Kareem Rosser’s forthcoming Crossing the Line about his journey out of “The Bottom” in Philadelphia through a community prevention program called Work to Ride that allowed him to eventually become the top male (college age) polo player in America—he captained the first ever all-black polo team to victory at the intercollegiate level in 2011. Kareem is really open in the book about how dependent he is on horses—just contact with horses, the smell of them, their presence—for his mental health.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
CM: Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker. This is my go-to for expecting mothers. Because it is honest about all the shit that nobody tells you about motherhood and parenthood.
BM: Classic book you hate?
CM: Forgive me, literary America, but I don’t like Slouching Toward Bethlehem.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
CM: There are so many! Though I went to college, I didn’t major in English there, and I don’t have an MFA so there are so many “classic” old-school cannon texts I’ve never read. Ulysses, Middlemarch, Swann’s Way, King Lear…
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
CM: Jilly Cooper’s Riders. Just Google the cover—you’ll get the gist of what’s inside. Really great sex scenes, plural.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
CM: I’m about to go on a road trip to my parents’ place in Tennessee so I’m bringing lots of books: Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet, Britt Bennett’s The Mothers, Mary Karr’s Lit and Tracy O’Neill’s Quotients, plus all the Raina Telgemeier’s for my six year-old, who has decided she wants “to draw as good as Raina” by the summer’s end.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
CM: Well, l wish we could go back in time and take the money spent on The Blind Side to make Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare into a movie, instead. I read The Mare this fall—it is an appropriately complicated book about a white savior-type who harms more than she helps.
Courtney Maum is the author of the novels Touch and I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, the chapbook Notes from Mexico, and the handbook Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book. Her writing and essays have been widely published in such outlets as BuzzFeed; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; and Modern Loss. She is the founder of the learning collaborative The Cabins, and she also works as a product and cosmetic shade namer from her home in Connecticut.
Courtney Maum’s Costalegre is out tomorrow in paperback from Tin House Books