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 The Body Double (out now in paperback), Emily Beyda.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Emily Beyda: Anything and everything by the great Kate Klise, especially Letters from Camp and Regarding the Fountain. What made those books so fantastic to me as a young reader was their form. Both are told epistolary novel style—a pastiche of every possible form of text, letters and passed notes, hotel menus, the blueprints of a treehouse—and discovering the stories hidden within these relics of ordinary life was a pure and breathless joy for baby Emily.
BM: Favorite re-read?
EB: I’m not the biggest re-reader (there are just so many books to discover the first time around!), but one book that I’ve returned to is The Brothers Karamazov. It’s just such a rich text, and there’s always so much in it to explore. I remember it being funnier than it seemed the second time I read it. When I returned to the book I was moved by it, how much it had to say about family and identity and loss. I found the themes that resonated with me in the text at thirty were totally different from what I appreciated about it at age twenty. Can’t wait to see how it hits at 40!
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
EB: This one is SUCH a good question, and also kind of impossible to answer. When you write something like a novel, so many weird little influences filter in. This book was shaped by what I was watching/reading/eating/everyone I was around. But ultimately, I feel like the title that The Body Double is most connected to is probably Rebecca. Some of the connections were inadvertent (the R names, the creepy but well intentioned Max), but the idea of transformation, stepping into someone else’s shadow as you try to unravel the silence they left behind was vividly important to me as I wrote this book.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
EB: Is it cheating to say every book? I’ve always been a voracious reader, and there’s something about cracking the covers of a whole new universe that feels like the strangest miracle a human being could ever experience. But yes, that’s obviously cheating, so another answer is If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino. It’s this miraculous little puzzle box of a book—stories opening into stories opening into stories. A pure joy that blew my mind and changed my conceptions of what fiction can do (basically anything, imo).
BM: Last book you read?
EB: Le Grand Meaulnes! I stumbled across it mentioned in an essay about something else entirely, and was completely charmed by this strange little work of French fiction. It reads like a fairytale, or something out of a dream. Le Grand Meaulnes was the author’s only book—he died in the trenches of WWII shortly after completing it—and the world he creates within this slim volume is so gorgeous and dreamy I couldn’t help but feel heartbroken knowing I’d never read anything else by him. So, I suppose, also see below.
BM: A book that made you cry?
EB: I’m generally kind of a sap, so there are a number of books that have gotten me teary-eyed. But in terms of literal, out and out sobbing, nothing beats The Age of Innocence. Edith Wharton is the GOAT. She does such incredible emotional things with such subtlety—a gesture, a pause, a look. No spoilers, but the end scene where one character looks up at another character’s window gets me crying like a baby every time.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
EB: SO MANY! The pandemic seems like a writer’s dream in some ways (being stuck inside with our TBR pile is the desert island fantasy of many a literary person I know), but in reality the stress and anxiety and endless parade of bad news made it a hard time to bring a book into the world. I’m enormously proud of my friends who did just that—Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation, a dreamy read it in one gulp fantasy that got me through some very dark days, for example, and Morgan Jerkins’ Caul Baby. I’m also really excited to read the final version of Zakiya Dalila Harris’ The Other Black Girl, which is next on my list! The early draft I read blew my mind, so I can only imagine how fantastic it’s going to be.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
EB: My most vivid memory of laughing out loud at a book was reading Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote. It’s such a strange book, but she really captures the bizarrely irresistible comic timing of the language to such perfect effect. The dynamics between Sancho and Don Quixote, and some of the physical comedy of them galumphing all over the countryside causing a ruckus is just purely hilarious and delightful. It’s such a silly book—and silliness, I think, is one of the most difficult effects to achieve in literature.
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
EB: It’s funny—I think my teenage literary regret mostly cuts the other way. I was a hugely ambitious reader as a young person (basically, any time someone told me a book would be too hard for me, that’s when I’d read it), which resulted in my reading a lot of literature I was probably too young to really appreciate. I should definitely, for example, reread all the great Russians (I just thought reading my parents copy of War and Peace on the back of the schoolbus was such a good look). But if I could give my younger self any book, it would probably be The Golden Notebook. I read it over the pandemic, and was so taken with its depiction of female friendship, the power we have to hold each other in that particular way.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
EB: I think the best gift books are little slips of things the giftee can carry with them in their glove compartment or purse. In that spirit, the book I’ve bought the most over the years is probably Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. Despite the slim size (I think giving someone an enormous book can sometimes feel like you’re sticking them with a homework assignment), it’s an enormously emotionally powerful work. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t found it profoundly moving—there’s something so universal about it, in its particularity. A gorgeous, generous little book.
BM: Classic book you hate?
EB: I hate to say it, but Midnight’s Children just wasn’t for me. I had really enjoyed The Satanic Verses when I read it for a class in grad school, so I was excited to check this one out, but something about the way Rushdie writes just doesn’t connect for me. I think there are books that integrate really well into our own natural flow of thought (for me, anything by Joan Didion feels like this), books that shift us into another mental register in a cool/challenging way (Renata Adler!), and other books (this one, for me), whose linguistic flow is just slippery in a way our minds struggle to latch onto. I just couldn’t get into it. I slogged my way to the end because I’m allergic to not finishing books, but it was a tough one. Sorry, Salman!
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read Pile?
EB: One of my personal pandemic projects has been conquering the Modern Library’s top 100 list! It’s been really fun so far, and I’ve unearthed some real gems (and slogged through a few titles that just…weren’t for me, see above). So I guess the TBR classic I’m most excited about right now is the next installment of the A Dance to The Music of Time series, The Kindly Ones. Each of the books has been such a weird little fragment of English life in the 1940s, super idiosyncratic and personal. It’s been great fun exploring this weird little world, and I’m excited to see what comes next.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
EB: I feel like there are different kinds of great sex scenes—the great because they’re sexy kind (less common in literary fiction, to be fair), and the great because they do something interesting for the plot. In fiction, as in life, sex can be a powerful tool for connection and communication! One book I think succeeds spectacularly on this register is the writing about sex (and bodies in general) in Breasts and Eggs. There’s something kind of grotesque about the way sex is portrayed in this book, but it really fits in with Kawakami’s preoccupation with the (sometimes horrific) realities of existing in a female body. She writes about sex in a way that I found surprising—which, considering it’s one of the most universal shared human experiences, is an extremely hard thing to do.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
EB: It’s not that no one has heard of it, but I’m surprised that Plum Bun isn’t more widely read. Jessie Redmon Fauset had a huge impact on the history of American literature, but she isn’t nearly as widely read as her male contemporaries. That should change. Plum Bun is a fascinating and important book that captures the limits of Black middle class prosperity in the 1920s and 30s. The way Fauset captures the dynamics of race, colorism, class, and gender in the artistic circles of this era is completely captivating.
BM: Favorite book of the 21st Century?
EB: This is an EXTREMELY tough question (and one I consider impossible to answer), but I’m obsessed with the decidedly obscure world of The Invention of Morel. This is one of the books that I think about the most often, and it had a profound impact on my own book. The idea of mirrored worlds, of seeing into something beyond, is profoundly intriguing to me. And it’s just such a wonderful little gem of a book—I have such admiration for how much it does in such a narrow and poetic slip of space.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
EB: I was really lucky to have some amazing English teachers in high school (shout out to Ms. Moody and Dr. Draper in particular!), so I could answer this question any number of ways—but I think my favorite book we read in high school was a duo of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. I had never even heard of the concept of rewriting a classic book, and pairing these two was such a brilliant way of conveying the sheer bottomlessness of stories. I think it changed the way I think about literature, reminding me that all of us carry around an entire narrative universe within ourselves.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
EB: I’m on the road right now for my post Covid family visits, and when I travel I always bring along the clunkiest, slowest moving book I can dredge up. Counterintuitive when it comes to the work of hauling it around the countryside, but I live in fear of not having something to read! Right now it’s Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. It’s really an incredible book. The holocaust is well trod territory in American pop culture Grossman depicts the suffering of the Russian and German people in such a tragically vivid way, with such perfection of physical and emotional detail. I would not, however, recommend reading it on the beach.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
EB: As a longtime nanny, this question is dear to my heart! One of my favorite series for children is Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books—especially the (extremely meta) We Are In A Book, in which our friends discover they are fictional creatures and panic about the impending end of their book. Who hasn’t been there?
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
EB: I would dearly love to see a TV adaptation of my friend Ivy Pochoda’s These Women, a brilliant book that came out earlier last year. It’s a thrilling reimagining of the serial killer story through they eyes of the overlooked victims, and in a media landscape that’s crowded with depictions of these kind of crimes from the point of view of the police, I think it would be wonderful to see this story told by the women on the other side of this strangely fascinating form of violence.
Emily Beyda is a Los Angeles native who for the past three years has written the popular “Dear Glutton” advice column in The Austin Chronicle. A graduate of Texas State’s M.F.A. program, she currently resides back in L.A. The Body Double is her first novel.
Emily Beyda’s The Body Double is out now in paperback from Anchor Books