Emma Cline: ‘Reading anything because you “should” doesn’t make sense to me’

The book I am currently reading
I’m halfway through A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O’Brien, a demented and perfect novel from the late 70s about the mythology of Hollywood intersecting with the mythology of family. It’s insanely good, and the tone is so sparky and bizarre and deadpan. I just finished a Beach Boys biography – a book about fathers as the great villains, which paired in interesting ways with the documentary Crumb [about underground cartoonist Robert Crumb]. In both cases, brothers are psychologically destroyed by their fathers in an era when fathers were held up as the ultimate god/daddy figures. And then the brothers go on, in their art, to pervert these seemingly innocent forms of the culture: comics and pop music.

The book I wish I’d written
Maybe Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy. Sometimes a heightened world can be hard to keep up for the length of a novel, but this is slim and totally successful at sustaining a surreal atmosphere. Or Sylvia by Leonard Michaels, which has always felt like the perfect book. Oh wait, actually Norman Rush’s Mating.

The books that had the greatest influence on my writing
Probably the stories of Mary Gaitskill, Joy Williams and Deborah Eisenberg. I’m looking for that slight hallucinatory vibe in my own writing, a sense that the world has ever so slightly been knocked off its axis.

The book I think is most underrated
Problems by Jade Sharma is so great, and I wish it was more widely known and read. I also loved The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan.

The last book that made me cry
My friend remembered a line from a Jack Gilbert poem as “it’s dark in the major nation”. Which seemed to fit this current moment when so-called American exceptionalism is exposed as the fiction it always was. I looked it up in Gilbert’s The Great Fires and the actual line is, “this dark is a major nation”. And then I reread his poem “Alone”, about his wife, Michiko – it always makes me cry.

The last book that made me laugh
This psychedelic and totally hilarious nonfiction book by Bett Williams called The Wild Kindness. There’s a killer scene where the narrator is on mushrooms and having a conversation with their dog and the dog is very calmly recounting that he’s part of MKUltra [the CIA psychological warfare programme involving human experiments]. And I have been rereading Percival Everett’s Erasure: I forgot how funny that book is.

The book I couldn’t finish
I got a little ways into The Golden Bowl by Henry James. I’ll probably try again, but I’m not too worried about it.

The book I’m ashamed not to have read
I don’t feel shame about reading habits. Reading anything because you think you “should” doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It seems more pleasurable and more useful to follow whatever bizarre interests and tastes are peculiar to you.

The book I give as a gift
Leonard Koren’s Undesigning the Bath, The Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, and Bento’s Sketchbook by John Berger.

My earliest reading memory
Probably the Busy Town books, which delighted me with their illustrations of what I assumed adult life would look like: animals wearing vests and running bookstores. I also obsessed over Sherlock Holmes.

My comfort read
Some people really like the transporting nature of experimental prose or spare autofiction, but when I want to fully peace out of reality, I like being dropped into another life entirely, one that feels as rich and detailed as possible. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides was a comforting reread lately, because the scenes have the quality of life. Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson is comforting for the same reason, a fictional world that is so tightly woven that it blots out the actual world.

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