Nancy Jensen's first book, Window, a collection of stories and essays, was published by Fleur-de-Lis Press in 2009, and her work has appeared in numerous literary journals. Jensen shares her home with eight rescued cats and her dog Gordy, her partner on a pet therapy team with Pawsibilities Unleashed of Kentucky. When she isn't writing or enjoying the company of her furred family, she teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. Her first novel, The Sisters (St. Martin's Press, November 8, 2011), a family saga that begins in Kentucky in the 1920s, is an Indie Next Great Reads pick for December.
On your nightstand now:
In three corners of my nightstand there are stacks of books--some I've read before, like The Ice Storm by Rick Moody, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks, but which I'm now reading again as candidates for a course I'm teaching called "From Page to Screen." There's a stack of just-bought books that I'm waiting to find time to read, including The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Blue Nights by Joan Didion. In another stack are books mostly recommended by friends, books I've nibbled at but haven't yet dined on, including Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt and The Help by Kathryn Stockett. And in the fourth corner? Okay, this is a little embarrassing. The fourth corner is occupied by my own book The Sisters because I'm still not over the thrill of being able to reach out and touch it in the night as proof I'm not dreaming.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and all the Black Stallion novels. Horses, horses, horses, horses--even though I'd never been on one. All the stories I wrote in elementary school were about little girls being surprised with the gift of a horse. It wasn't until I was thoroughly grown up, when a friend took me to a local barn because I'd said I wanted to learn to ride, that I really realized how terrifyingly big and powerful they are. Much safer on the page.
Your top five authors:
Can I just say George Bernard Shaw times five? (With apologies to him about including George, a name he detested.) Sometimes I just open any one of the plays, choose a long speech at random, read it for the pure beauty of its rhythms and then read it again for the perfection of its reason. I follow this by reading the answering speech by a character with the opposite viewpoint, who also speaks in beautifully rhythmic reason.
Book you've faked reading:
Moby Dick. I've tried, I really have, but I just can't get past the first few chapters. I've watched every film version ever made, hoping to be convinced I was missing something astonishing that would drive me back to the book, but it hasn't worked. Once I got through my graduate program, I realized faking reading Moby Dick wasn't going to be hard anymore, because when you carry the stamp of "an educated person" with the correct qualifying letters after your name, people just assume you've read it. So now the white whale in the room has been acknowledged and I will stop worrying about it--at least until someone asks me a specific question.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Somewhere along the way I stopped evangelizing for books I love, perhaps partly because I realize that people have such sharply different tastes and partly because I realize that I love certain books deeply because they just happened to arrive in my lap at exactly the right time. So I don't collar people. Still, it secretly breaks my heart when I hear someone hasn't loved--or even liked--Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried or George Eliot's Middlemarch.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, because who can help wanting to know what's going on with that ghostly little baby dress?
Book that changed your life:
That has to be Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. After five years of trying to be a happy housewife who was secretly trying to be a writer, I started college at 22. Portrait was on the syllabus for my first literature class, and even though I was about as far as humanly possible from being a Jesuit Irish schoolboy at the turn of the 20th century, everything Stephen Dedalus felt was something I had felt.
Favorite line from a book:
"Now that my ladder's gone,/ I must lie down where all ladders start/ In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart." W.B. Yeats, "The Circus Animals' Desertion." I love this line because it describes exactly what I have to re-teach myself whenever it's time to begin writing something new.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Black Beauty--because I've only just realized, in writing this, that it was this book that made me a lover of literature, not just a lover of stories.