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 Resisters, Gish Jen.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Gish Jen: My godmother sent me a copy of Heidi one Christmas, and I have been wanting to sleep in a hayloft ever since.
BM: Favorite re-read?
GJ: I will always love Pride and Prejudice. I first read it because I wanted to be Elizabeth Bennett. Then I read it because I wanted to meet a Mr. Darcy, and then because its world, for all its challenges, was so much more manageable than our own. Now it is Austen’s command and poise I admire. Oh, to be unfailing!
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
GJ: Most people would think The Resisters in conversation with 1984 or Never Let Me Go, and it is. But it is probably closer to To Kill a Mockingbird and any number of baseball books, from Satchel Paige’s Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever to Mo’ne Davis’ Remember My Name.
BM: Last book you read?
GJ: I just finished Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell and was so impressed not only by her bold and gorgeous imagining of Shakespeare’s family life, but her placement of it at the smack center of her narrative.
BM: A book that made you cry?
GJ: They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell. This beautiful account of a mother lost to an epidemic requires many hankies at any time, but this year, where so many have lost real mothers to an epidemic, well.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
GJ: Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is a stunner on every level.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
GJ: The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain. You don’t need a pandemic to resort to Twain, but it’s not a bad reason.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
GJ: Conversations with Beethoven by Sanford Friedman relates the last year of Beethoven’s life through the written communications of his visitors. Nothing of Beethoven’s replies is given but you can hear the maestro—who was, of course, was deaf but hardly dumb—loud and clear all the same.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
GJ: Three Rings: A Tale of Exile, Narrative, and Fate by Daniel Mendelsohn. This is not his most accessible read—that would be An Odyssey: A Father, a Son and an Epic, about a father, a son, and the Odyssey. But for the literarily inclined, his reading of Sebald in the light of Proust is a real pleasure, and it’s not the only one.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
GJ: The Velveteen Rabbit. Everything that is real was imagined first.
Gish Jen is the author of four previous novels, a story collection, and two works of nonfiction. Her honors include the Lannan Literary Award for fiction and the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She delivered the William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies at Harvard University. She teaches from time to time in China and otherwise lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Gish Jen’s The Resisters is out now in paperback from Vintage