|photo: Matthew Delamater
Dave Patterson holds an MA from the Bread Loaf School of English and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program. His short fiction has appeared in Slice magazine, Hot Metal Bridge, the Drunken Odyssey and the Apple Valley Review, among other literary magazines. His first novel, Soon the Light Will Be Perfect (Hanover Square Press, April 9, 2019), chronicles the journey of two brothers on the cusp of adulthood, a town battered by poverty and a family at a breaking point.
On your nightstand now:
I try to have two books going at once, usually a novel or memoir along with a book on writing. The current duo is The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Reading Didion's sentences is a mystical experience--holiness in the highest order. And Klinkenborg's book is jostling loose the calcified thoughts on writing I didn't even know I was clinging to.
Favorite book when you were a child:
As a kid, I remember getting a jolt from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. It was magical and dark and mysterious. I remember I was kind of afraid of reading it. That's a quality I still look for in a book. I want pages that both intrigue and frighten as they propel me deeper into the human experience.
Your top five authors:
This question is like asking my top five songs. It's mean-hearted at its core. For that reason, I love it! Depends on the day, really. So here is today's list: Flannery O'Connor, Andre Dubus, Annie Proulx, Hayden Carruth and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Book you've faked reading:
Ulysses. I stole a copy in college and tried reading it a dozen times to no avail. I don't pretend I've read it anymore, but there was a period, in grad school specifically, when I'd nod vigorously as someone droned on about the genius inside Joyce's impenetrable text. "Yes, of course," I'd lie. "Magical book, isn't it?" Total hogwash.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I've spent years preaching the gospel of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried to anyone who will listen. My friends are tired of indulging my zealotry. New acquaintances eye me suspiciously as my voice quakes explaining the book's genius. Everything one could want is in this novel: superb craftsmanship, achingly beautiful scenes, intense love and a philosophical meditation on why humans traffic in the business of war. Want to borrow my copy?
Book you've bought for the cover:
At my local bookstore I recently fell in love with the cover of Jennifer Clement's Gun Love. The stunning neon yellow and pink juxtaposed with two warring alligators. It's so evocative and quintessential Florida--the mash-up of gaudy humanity and fierce nature. I had to buy it. Luckily, the story delivers as powerfully as the cover.
Book you hid from your parents:
Oddly enough, the book I hid most desperately from my very Catholic parents was an Introduction to Buddhism a friend lent me the summer before I went to college. My parents were not openminded about other faiths; finding this book would have caused a row in the house. So I only read it when I was alone, letting the beautiful ideas flower in my mind.
Book that changed your life:
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver changed my life. I was hypnotized by the language. But bigger than the excitement I received from the taut sentences and the raw portrayal of humanity, was the fact that here was an acclaimed writer exalting my people: lower middle-class Americans who weren't particularly literary. Carver offers high art about them. These stories gave me permission to write about the rural landscape I had been thrust into.
Favorite line from a book:
Impossible question. So here's what I'll do: I'll grab my crumbling copy of The Great Gatsby, open to a random page, and select a sentence. Got the book. Opening randomly. Chapter Four. Pan down. Okay. Got one. It's a sentence about Gatsby's car: "It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns." I could dissect the brilliance of this sentence for days: the language, the impending doom this car will bring, the way it embodies Gatsby's ludicrous dream and so on and so on.
Five books you'll never part with:
I live in a small house, so this one's easy. I'll never let go of The Riverside Shakespeare, my first copy of Drown by Junot Díaz, Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America to help keep my writing weird, the aforementioned copy of Gatsby and my first edition of Richard Ford's Rock Springs I bought in a used bookstore in Vermont.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Oh that I could have this opportunity! I'd choose Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson. My first reading of this book was like grabbing a downed power line in a rainstorm--it scorched me from the inside out. The artistry and grace Johnson conjures in the midst of a debased, fraught landscape. My eyelids tremble just thinking about my first reading of this opiated masterpiece.