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 Mill Town (out now on paperback), Kerri Arsenault.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Kerri Arsenault: The 1977 novel The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, about the illicit affair between the Catholic priest, Ralph de Bricassart, and Meggie Cleary, who was an underage girl when the two first met. I must have read it a million times and it came out when I was only ten. In retrospect, it seems like a wholly inappropriate book for a ten year old to be reading! But I also read around that same time Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, which steeled me against believing in such fantasies…or any fantasies.
BM: Favorite re-read?
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
KA: I fantasize about a panel discussion with these books and authors: White Noise by Don DeLillo; Evil Geniuses by Kurt Andersen; Dictionary of the Undoing by John Freeman; Slow Violence and Environmentalism of the Poor by Rob Nixon; and American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
KA: Two books: Cesar Aira’s The Divorce, translated by Chris Andrews, and Eric Vuillard’s The Order of the Day, both novels, both spectacular prose, and both slightly experimental and dark and wonderful and entangled. Also: People from my Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Ted Goossen. Bite-sized portraits of a fictional exburb that, without warning, goes down mischievous paths.
BM: Last book you read?
BM: A book that made you cry?
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
KA: Gordo by Jaime Cortez! It was just published in August, but it is one of the best books of the year, second only to David Searcy’s The Tiny Bee That Hovers at the Center of the World. Searcy is a stunning stylist and thinker, always surprising, often very funny, and a gentle alien. Every sentence he writes inspires me.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
KA: Hot Cold Heavy Light by Peter Schjeldahl and anything anything anything by Natalie Ginzburg.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
KA: Middlemarch by George Eliot – I just bought it!
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
KA: Someone has surely heard of Garden by the Sea by Mercè Rodoreda and translated from the Catalan by the mother and daughter team of Martha Tennent and Maruxa Relaño. It’s such a quiet and unsettling book set in post-war Spain, from the point-of-view of the gardener who tends to the home of the rich and carefree.
BM: Favorite book of the 21st century?
KA: That’s impossible to answer! I can’t remember all the books I’ve read! Today, it would be The Every by Dave Eggers. My answer will change tomorrow. And it would have been different yesterday. If you asked me last spring, it would have to be Semezdin Mehmedinovic’s novel, My Heart, translated by Celia Hawksworth.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
KA: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
KA: Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, trans. by Sasha Dugdale and Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes, both from New Directions.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
KA: Mine, of course! Or Gordo by Jaime Cortez.
Kerri Arsenault is a book critic, teacher, book editor at Orion magazine, and author of the best-selling book, Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains, which won the Maine Literary Award for nonfiction and the Rachel Carson Environmental Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Mill Town was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Leonard Prize. Kerri’s work has appeared in Freeman’s, the Boston Globe, Down East, the Paris Review, the New York Review of Books, Air Mail, and the Washington Post.
Kerri Arsenault’s Mill Town is out now in paperback from St. Martin’s Griffin