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 Topics of Conversation (out now in paperback), Miranda Popkey.
Book Marks: Favorite re-read?
Miranda Popkey: Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog: future Oxford, time traveling historians, ridiculous Victorians—nothing beats it for sheer, chewy pleasure. When I can’t read, this is the book I turn to.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
MP: Toni Morrison’s Sula. I’ve read it twice and I’m itching to read it again. I could read that book over and over for the rest of my life and on my death bed I’d still be learning from it.
BM: Last book you read?
MP: Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. Like many, I’ve been having trouble with the whole words-on-the-page translating into meaning-in-the-mind business; Beaton’s irreverent comics were just the ticket. Reader, I didn’t laugh out loud; I chortled.
BM: A book that made you cry?
MP: I used to cry at the “this little piggy got none” part of the little piggy song; does that count? Of course now I know I should have been crying about the one they sent to market; turns out he was not going shopping!
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
MP: Zan Romanoff, a brilliant writer who also happens to be my bestfriend, wrote a novel called Look that came out last March. I love each of Zan’s three books (in addition to Look, she’s the author of A Song to Take the World Apart and Grace and the Fever) absolutely unreservedly, but Look is really special: a retelling of Bluebeard set in the world of LA private schools. It’s YA, but if you’re interested in the female gaze, circa now, trust me—whether or not you think of yourself as a YA reader, this one’s for you.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
MP: Poets in Their Youth, by Eileen Simpson. John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Jean Stafford, and others in their circle, just before everyone started drinking too much and everything went to hell. Written by Berryman’s shockingly well-adjusted first wife—after they divorced, she became a psychotherapist—it’s also miraculously free of rancor.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
MP: Henry James’s The Ambassadors. But first I have to re-read Portrait of a Lady, which I did not exactly get the first time around. Hot tip: don’t read Henry James on an e-reader; it makes the sentences longer somehow.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
MP: Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient; specifically the Katharine section. I’ve said too much.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
MP: I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite, but I do want to put in a good word for Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, which gets a lot of hate on the internet these days (to be fair to the internet, I’ve never met anyone in real life either who likes it as much as I do). I find that pickle dish moving! So sue me!
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
MP: Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women, a group biography of Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler. It’ll make you—it’s making me—want to read individual biographies of each painter. It’ll also make you want to shoot Jackson Pollock into the moon.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
MP: It’s very bad form to say mine, but—what the heck: Adam Driver, if you’re reading this, call me! I have a part for you!
Miranda Popkey lives in Massachusetts. Topics of Conversation is her first novel.
Miranda Popkey’s Topics of Conversation is out now in paperback from Vintage