|photo: Peter Yoon
Laura van den Berg's debut story collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us (Dzanc Books, 2009), was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, a finalist for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and long-listed for the Story Prize. Her stories have appeared in One Story, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008 and Best New American Voices 2010, among other publications. A Florida native, van den Berg has an MFA from Emerson College and is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences. She lives in the Boston area. Her new collection, The Isle of Youth, was published by FSG on November 5, 2013.
On your nightstand now:
A couple of different books, as usual: Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson and a new collection by Lucy Corin--One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses--and Nina McConigley's Cowboys and East Indians.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Any and all of the Nancy Drew books, perhaps especially The Secret of Shadow Ranch. I loved--and still love--mysteries.
Your top five authors:
Oh my. Where to begin! The configuration is always changing, but right my top five of all time might include Michael Ondaatje, Marguerite Duras, Kazuo Ishiguro, Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett.
Book you've faked reading:
War and Peace. I have friends who might disown me for this answer. I was an underslept, impatient college student. Have pity on me!
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Quick & the Dead by Joy Williams. It's an enormously ambitious novel--brutal, hilarious, searching, apocalyptic, singular. I foist it upon nearly everyone I meet.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus. The Peter Mendelsund cover is so brilliant; every time I saw it in a bookstore, I could feel the cover pulling me over, magnet-like. As it turned out, the inside part was pretty brilliant, too.
Book that changed your life:
The Waves by Virginia Woolf. I read this novel when I was first starting to write and never saw language in the same way again.
Favorite line from a book:
"They say the smart dog obeys, but the smarter dog knows when to disobey." This is from the short story "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" by Amy Hempel.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Loser by Thomas Bernhard. That voice, it's like being sprayed with a fire hose. And the water is very cold. Yet it somehow feels amazing. I would love to encounter that voice again for the first time, that spectacular meditation on art and failure.
Top five short story collections:
As always, so hard to choose, but perennial favorites include Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel, Escapes by Joy Williams, Like Life by Lorrie Moore, Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro, Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin. And Like You'd Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard. And Murakami's After the Quake. And A.S. Byatt's Little Black Book of Stories. And Brian Evenson's Windeye. And Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link. And Karen Russell. And Lauren Groff. I am lousy at math, but I do realize this is more than five. What can I say? When it comes to story collections, I am unrestrainable.