Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to Inland author, Téa Obreht.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Téa Obreht: In my native language, it was certainly some abridged form of The Jungle Book. In English, however, it might have been Joan Aiken’s eerie as hell collection of folktales, The Kingdom Under the Sea, which my mother ordered for me out of the annual school catalogue when we were living in Cyprus.
BM: Favorite re-read?
TO: I’m probably most faithful to Love in the Time of Cholera, but these days I also find myself constantly revisiting works by Proulx, Ishiguro, Baldwin, and Shirley Jackson.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
TO: A Prayer for the Dying by Stewart O’Nan. It’s a pins-and-needles horror set during a post-Civil War plague, so perhaps not the most advisable read for the current moment—but it was the first novel I ever read written entirely in the second person, and it completely overhauled my understanding of what was possible.
BM: Last book you read?
BM: A book that made you cry?
TO: Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, for sure. There are also moments in ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, particularly in the stories that hit youthful rage and helplessness head-on, that put a lump in my throat.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
TO: 2019 was a truly unbelievable year for books, but a steadfast favorite of mine from the very start of it was Salvatore Scibona’s The Volunteer. His style is pure magic.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
TO: There are quite a few, but one that sticks out is Son of the Morning Star. Structurally, the book is bonkers, but its project is fascinating and the matter-of-fact contempt Evan S. Connell piles onto some of the principal bunglers of Custer’s final, disastrous campaign is excoriating.
BM: Classic book you hate?
TO: Lord of the Flies. Poor Piggy. Poor Simon. I mean, my God.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
TO: I had the great honor of studying with TC Boyle at USC, and one of the texts he assigned was an anthology he’d edited called Doubletakes, the organizing principle of which was to present pairs of stories by the same author. It was an incredible way to get to know the short story form.
BM: Favorite book of the 20th century?
TO: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, hands down.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
TO: Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I didn’t realize it would become so important to me at first, because I’d only been in the US for about three years when I read it, and I had real difficulty with her prose style, which in that book is impressionistic and very trusting of the reader’s ability to fill in the gaps.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
BM: Favorite children’s book?
I think I’d have to say Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s got grotesques and woodland plotters and marvelous food writing. What’s not to love?
Téa Obreht is the author of internationally bestselling novels The Tiger’s Wife and Inland. The recipient of numerous accolades and awards, including the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction, the 2016 fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the 2019 Ballard Prize for Fiction, she will be serving as Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at TSU San Marcos in the fall. For now, she lives in Wyoming with her husband, Dan, a writer; and her dog, Gulliver, a dog.
Téa Obreht’s Inland is out now in paperback from Random House