Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to Ponti author Sharlene Teo.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Sharlene Teo: The Hundredth Dove and Other Tales by Jane Yolen—it had these beautiful charcoal drawings and the stories within were haunting and melancholic in a way I’d never encountered before. That’s the wonderful thing about a childhood book- I remember studying the illustrations for hours, fully absorbed in the emotional realities within its pages.
BM: Favorite re-read?
ST: Love in the Time of Cholera, Light Years, Lolita, Madame Bovary.
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
ST: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jacksongets mentioned in Ponti—because Shirley Jackson is such an influence and inspiration to me and both books centre female teenage misanthropy.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
ST: Beloved by Toni Morrison—before I read it, I didn’t know a novel could be so horrific and humane, fantastical yet grounded in deep and present pain.
BM: Last book you read?
ST: The Anthill by Julie Pachico—Childhood and grown-up guilt collide, as does the deeply personal and the violently political, in this hallucinatory, scary and cathartic novel. It’s a masterclass in point of view- my favourite parts are the exquisitely written sections narrated by the Arctic Fox in a sort of hyperbolic astral register.
BM: A book that made you cry?
ST: All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews—oh, my heart! How does a novel about suicidal ideation manage to be so funny, desperately sad and uplifting all at once?
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
ST: Can I name two? How We Disappeared by Jing Jing Lee—a sweeping, sensitively told historical epic about comfort women and the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan—millennial ennui, codependency, couplehood, bisexuality and distracting wallpaper combine into a memorable and wonderfully weird novel.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
ST: Everything You Ever Wanted by Luiza Sauma—both ultra contemporary and timeless in its examination of mental health and existential and social purpose, it’s the most hilarious and razor-sharp depiction of office politics I’ve ever read. The protagonist, Iris, hates earth so much she volunteers to participate in a reality show set on another planet. As someone who grew up loving films like Event Horizon and the Alien franchise, I really appreciated the sections set in space.
BM: Classic book you hate?
ST: Pride and Prejudice. I’m sorry, I would not like to go on a perambulation.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
ST: Moby Dick. One day I’ll meet that whale!
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
ST: Ice by Anna Kavan; not a book so much as a harrowing but brilliant textual experience.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
ST: Washington Square by Henry James, The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante (supernaturally perceptive and absorbing as usual—though the part of the story I’m at present bears uncanny parallels with that Caroline Carroway/Natalie Beach palaver which is blowing up social media right now), and The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
ST: Chicken Soup With Rice by Maurice Sendak, Maisie and the Pinny Gig by Ursula Dubosarsky and A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban.
Sharlene Teo was born in Singapore and lives in London. Her debut novel Ponti won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award, was shortlisted for the Hearst Big Book Award and Edward Stanford Fiction Award, longlisted for the Jhalak Prize and selected by Ali Smith as one of the best debut novels of 2018.
Sharlene Teo’s Ponti is out now in paperback from Picador