Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to the award-winning author of The Isle of Youth, Find Me, and The Third Hotel, Laura van den Berg.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Laura van den Berg: My memory of my first twelve or so years is a little hazy and out-of-sequence, so it’s hard to say for sure, but I definitely loved the Nancy Drew books as a kid. I can’t remember the first one I read, but I do remember The Hidden Staircase being an early favorite.
BM: Favorite re-read?
LVDB: Last summer, I spent two days re-reading Toni Morrison’s Jazz and those were two of the best days I had that year. After Morrison’s death, I decided to do it again, and now I think re-reading Jazz is going to become a summer tradition.
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
LVDB: The writer has so little perspective at a certain stage, it’s hard to say with any real objectivity, but I can tell you that Torpor by Chris Kraus and Blow-Up by Julio Cortázar are two books that were on my mind a lot while working on The Third Hotel.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
LVDB: Marie Ndiaye is one of my favorite living writers, and her novel Ladivine is just stunning (and was also on my mind a lot as I worked on TTH).I read that book in a state of constant awe.
BM: Last book you read?
LVDB: I just finished César Aira’s short novel Ghosts.
BM: A book that made you cry?
LVDB: I’m not a big crier, but one story in Amy Hempel’s new collection, Sing To It, got me to the brink of tears at least. The last book that really turned on the waterworks was Miriam Toews’s novel All My Puny Sorrows.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
LVDB: Revolution Sunday, by Wendy Guerra, which came out from Melville House in December. That novel is super brilliant on surveillance and exile—How to live when nearly everyone you make contact with thinks you’re a double-agent of one kind or another?—and the agony and necessity of making art in such a context. Guerra writes suspenseful plots, beautiful lines, and is often very very funny. What more could a reader ask for?
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
LVDB: Patty Yumi Cottrell’s wonderful debut novel Sorry to Disrupt the Peace is absolutely hilarious in the way that I love most—humor that is sharp and surprising and full of hurt and longing and transgression.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
LVDB: I gift Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel all the time, especially to students.
BM: Classic book you hate?
LVDB: I found the experience of reading Tristram Shandy to be absolutely agonizing.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
LVDB: Plenty of people have heard of Grace Krilanovich’s The Orange Eats Creeps—I first heard about it from other people—but I think even more should. “Original” is perhaps an overused descriptor, but this books really is its own weird, wild thing.
BM: Favorite book of the 21st century?
LVDB: This is an impossible question, but The Naked Eye by Yoko Tawada changed me as a person and as a writer. I love it so much.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
LVDB: This is operating under the assumption that I actually did any homework in high school—lol.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
BM: Favorite children’s book?
LVDB: I have become woefully underread on this front, but I seem to remember being moved and also somewhat traumatized by The Velveteen Rabbit as a kid.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
LVDB: I would LOVE to see an adaption of Renee Gladman’s Ravicka books. What a series that could be!
Laura van den Berg’s most recent novel, The Third Hotel, was an ABA IndieNext Pick, named a best book of 2018 by over a dozen outlets, and was a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award. She is also the author of one previous novel, Find Me, and two story collections. Born and raised in Florida, Laura currently lives in Cambridge, MA, with her husband and dog, and is a Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Fiction at Harvard. Her next story collection, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, is forthcoming from FSG in 2020.
Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel is now out in paperback from Picador