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 We Ride Upon Sticks, Quan Barry.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Quan Barry: Philip Hall Likes Me, I Reckon Maybe by Bette Greene. My elementary school librarian, Mrs. Atwood, recommended this book to me at one of those RIF (Reading Is Fun) book fairs. It was maybe the first book I ever read with a black protagonist, a little girl my age. One word: YASS!
BM: Favorite re-read?
QB: I love rereading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies from time to time. It’s completely creepy and always packs a punch no matter how many times I read it. The chapter with Simon and his visions of the Lord of the Flies is as good as it gets.
BM: A book that made you cry?
QB: The short story “The Boat” in Nam Le’s collection The Boat; Our Andromeda: Poems by Brenda Shaughnessy. It’s funny. Books don’t generally make me cry, though movies and music do. And poetry almost never does. The eponymous story in Nam Le’s far-ranging story collection is devastating. And in her poetry collection, Our Andromeda, Brenda Shaughnessy details the birth of her son, the outcome of which is truly heartbreaking.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
QB: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. This book has everything—beyond gorgeous writing, compelling characters (mostly women in different life situations), the diary of a female Arctic explorer at the turn of the 20th century, and a realistic exploration of the consequences of policing women’s reproductive rights. Amazing!
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
QB: Martin Amis Yellow Dog. I haven’t read it in more than a decade, and I think maybe it wasn’t well reviewed, plus I couldn’t tell you exactly what it’s about. And yet I remember reading it and laughing out loud, which isn’t typical for me. Martin Amis is the MASTER of the well-timed and perfectly crafted comic phrase. I aspire to his bon mot-manship on every level.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
QB: The Book of Hours by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Barrows and Macy translation. I believe Rilke was a being who understood the true nature of existence, that everything is a manifestation of the one source.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
QB: I’ve been reading Don Quixote for about a decade. Every time I start it, I think, “This is so good!” and then around page 100, which is like only a fifth of the way through the book, LIFE creeps in and I wander away.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
QB: The Lover by Marguerite Duras. No comment.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
QB: The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller. It would be easy to think from the title, that this book is about a woman whose last name is Warner. But it’s much more delicious than that. The woman is among the last of Jamaica’s prophetic voices. We follow the ups and downs of her amazing life, which along the way makes us both laugh and cry, sometimes within paragraphs of each other.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
QB: The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher. Schumacher perfectly captures the Catch-22 hamster wheel that is academia in this novel. It’s true. Probably like folks in all professions, when it comes to my job, sometimes all I can do is laugh!
Raised in the coastal town of Danvers, Massachusetts, Quan Barry is the author of the novel She Weeps Each Time You’re Born and of four books of poetry, including the collection Water Puppets, which won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was a PEN Open Book finalist. She lives in Wisconsin and teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks is out now in paperback from