Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a co-founder of Camellia Network, a nonprofit working to provide community support for young people leaving the foster care system. Her first novel, The Language of Flowers (Ballantine, August 23, 2011), chronicles the experience of a young woman growing up in foster care.
On your nightstand now:
Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife (haven't started), Toni Morrison's A Mercy (also haven't started), Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits (halfway through), Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision (savoring every story) and E.B. White's Stuart Little (reading aloud to my kids).
Favorite book when you were a child:
Only one?! My parents read aloud to me every night until I was at least 13. My father read me most of the original Nancy Drew books and anything to do with gymnastics. My mother read me the Anne of Green Gables series (more than once) and, when I got older, a number of books by John Steinbeck. If I had to pick just one, though, I would say A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Your top five authors:
Not necessarily in this order: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Sandra Cisneros, Elizabeth Strout and Lois Lowry.
Book you've faked reading:
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. It wasn't that I didn't want to read it. I tried--more than once! But by about the fourth child's death I stopped every time, heartbroken and nauseous. I must have owned the book five years before I finished it. Now I count it among the best books I've ever read.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. I've read it more times than I can count and have given it to all my friends. At my wedding, I set aside special bottles of Veuve Cliquot (which plays prominently in the book) for the people who had read The Passion--everyone else had to drink cheap champagne.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Dive from Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer. I love her suitcase! And I liked the book, too.
Book that changed your life:
Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers. I found an old copy in a used bookstore when I was in high school and composed a number of bad poems by tying flowers together with twine. When I sat down to write my first novel, my main character came to me speaking in the language of flowers.
Favorite line from a book:
"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage." --Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Beloved by Toni Morrison. I read it for the first time in college and I couldn't shake it. I memorized the last page and would recite it under my breath as I walked around campus.