As a photographer, travel writer and contestant on CBS's Amazing Race, Deborah Cloyed has sojourned on five continents. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs a photography school for kids. Her debut novel was The Summer We Came to Life, a multi-generational tale about best friends, life choices and parallel universes. Her new novel, What Tears Us Apart (Mira, March 26, 2013), is a nonlinear love story set against the 2008 political uprisings in Kenya.
On your nightstand now:
Thanks for the reminder--I really must buy a proper nightstand. My bedroom walls hold a thousand books I've lovingly carted in and out of storage units for 15 years. A glance at their spines and I know what I will find inside--concert ticket stubs inside Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the bathtub page crinkles of Baudelaire's Les Fleurs de Mal, notes for college essays in Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume. On my Kindle is Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer and 100+ screenplays my boyfriend downloaded as a birthday present, starting with Armageddon.
Favorite book when you were a child:
In elementary school, I was possessed by a book about a woman who researched orangutans in Borneo, prompting me to announce it as my intended career for a decade. Another suck-in-my-breath favorite-book moment was when I discovered choose-your-own adventure books, specifically about unicorns. Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree was and is my favorite children's book--it turns up in a key scene in What Tears Us Apart. Ah, and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George was the Walden of my childhood--transformative, life-altering and totally got me in trouble for cooking acorn pancakes in the kitchen.
Your top five authors:
Favorite Epic Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Favorite Almost Same Age as Me Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Favorite Science Author: Brian Greene (Sorry, Stephen & Kaku. And Lisa, you're still my girl)
Favorite Relationship Amidst Political History Author (and role model for What Tears Us Apart): Barbara Kingsolver
Favorite Author I'm-full-disclosure-madly-in-love-with: Jonathan Bird
Book you've faked reading:
I spent my childhood, adolescence and teen years nose-deep in books. I can read and walk, I can read and jump rope, I can read and roller-skate. As an English major, I took down five novels a week. So it is completely nonsensical and ridiculous that I faked reading Thomas Pynchon's 152-page The Crying of Lot 49. Twice.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I wish my answer was Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground or Albert Camus' The Plague, two books that blew my mind. But to be honest, I feel like I've expended significant effort lobbying people to read The Serpent and the Rainbow by renegade Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis. The book details his courageous descent into the underworld of real-life Haitian zombie doping, giving a chilling peek into both the chemistry and invisible demons of the human mind, the interplay of ritual and belief, and.... Darn, you see? I'm doing it again.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Every shining, gleaming 50-pound art photography book I've spent far too large a percentage of my personal wealth on and still struggle to find space for. And I love them all.
Book that changed your life:
Tricky because I feel like that's what books do--they alter the course of your life. Sometimes it's a nudge, sometimes it's a 180-degree turn. You finish any book filled with new knowledge or new stories or new insights about yourself. That's why I won't give away my raggedy books--they are all memories, moments that changed me, steered me and formed me. Pick one? Albert Einstein's Relativity. Novels I read to forget the author and wander the world they've created. But to read the words of a genius who changed the course of the world, his voice speaking directly to me--that brought home the power of books, the power of an individual human mind, and the miracle of writing that is the one true elixir of immortality.
Favorite line from a book:
Odd that through the years, the line that has stuck with me the firmest: "That is why we were drawn to one another.... I am going to teach you to dance and play and smile, and still not be happy. And you are going to teach me to think and to know and yet not be happy." --from Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
On the Road by Jack Kerouac, as my 14-year-old self, in my blue jeans and white T-shirt (pre goth/Nietzsche phase), devoted wholly to my heroes and endearingly clueless to their sexist, macho, racist, reckless and alcoholic underpinnings.
Books you hold controversial, unorthodox views of:
The Bible and Fifty Shades of Grey. Let's leave it at that.