Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to Flash Count Diary author Darcey Steinke.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Darcey Steinke: Play with Me by Marie Hall Ets. I was five years old and had just gotten my first library card. In this book the young narrator chases after frogs, squirrels, and deer to get them to be her friends. By watching their stillness she realizes the way to be with them is not to bother them, but to sit very still and wait for them to come nearby. It is a Zen message, an ecological message, and a sort of philosophical one as well, and I understood, as best as my little brain could, all of that.
BM: Favorite re-read?
DS: I just reread The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois and once again it awed me. It’s so modern in the way it combines memoir, the stories of others, history and ideas. It always moves me a great deal.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
DS: Kindred by Octavia Butler. This book is a stone cold masterpiece. The way, through a time travel plot, it connects slavery with the modern life of black and white people. You can understand that something is heinous, evil, wrong but still not get a feel for the emotional complexity and damage of something like slavery. I feel it is the rare book that has the power to change a reader.
BM: Last book you read?
DS: Madame De Stael by Francine Du Plessix Gray. Because of my work as a writer I feel I should mostly be reading either novels (for form ideas) and non-fiction (for the details they can add to whatever I am working on) but my true love is biography. Every summer I let myself read a few. I have been wanting to read about De Stael for a long time. She was an early feminist and a great mind. A great De Stael line: “I live with a memory of men in my past the way others live with a physical ailment.”
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
DS: The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Each time I buy it again at my local, Green Light Bookstore in Leffert Garden’s Brooklyn, the nice book store cashier says “You know you already have 21 of these right?”
BM: Classic book you hate?
DS: I don’t really understand Dickens. The characters seem really stock to me, particularly the women. I also think many of the more modern books I don’t get come from Dickens influence, like Pynchon. I don’t really hate these books, I just can’t get what others seem to from them.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
DS: Being a minister’s daughter I read a lot of theology. I like the female theologians the best. A current favorite was Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly. I like how there can be a theology of anything! Also I like theology that is more like poetry. Since working on Flash Count Diary, I have also become very interested in nature and animals. I love the Canongate book The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. It is unlike any nature book I have ever read. It has a chilling chapter about the climbers that died on the mountain and also the various kinds of solitudes that came be experienced as she climbs higher.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
DS: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I remember readings all these ok classics and then this book entered me like a shard of falling glass. Jesus what a novel! It has a truly crazy energy and is as different from say Jane Austin as cake is to electricity.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
DS: I am reading This Life by Martin Hagglund, a book of new philosophy. Also Vulture by Wayne Grady in an effort to come to terms with the turkey buzzards that circle high about my upstate house sniffing out dead things. I have learned so far that these creatures mate for life and care for their young at least three years! Also Fledgling, Octavia Butler’s vampire novel.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
DS: Wolf by Douglas A. Martin. This novel, just published by Nightboat books, would make an amazing film. Two boys plan to kill their abusive father. It’s sort of a “How to Not Parent” manual and also a poetic crime noir. It reminds me of Rebecca Godfrey’s masterful Under the Bridge, which just got bought by Hulu. Both books have compassion for their complex lead characters. And both are, in the true sense of the word, “thrillers.”
Darcey Steinke is the author of the memoir Easter Everywhere and the novels Milk, Jesus Saves, Suicide Blonde, Up Through the Water, and Sister Golden Hair. With Rick Moody, she edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited. Her books have been translated into ten languages, and her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Review, Vogue, Spin, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian. She has been both a Henry Hoyns Fellow and a Stegner Fellow as well as a writer in residence at the University of Mississippi, and has taught at the Columbia University School of the Arts, Barnard, the American University of Paris, and Princeton.
Darcey Steinke’s Flash Count Diary is available from Picador