|photo: Jon Rendell
Vanessa Martini was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She began working at City Lights in 2013 and is currently associate buyer, working on frontlist, backlist and anything in between. She can most often be found reading in a dive bar.
On your nightstand now:
As any bookseller knows, after a certain point your nightstand basically IS a pile of books. I am usually reading something like two to four books at a time. The main one is Binstead's Safari by Rachel Ingalls, which is strange and sexy, a great springtime book. At the same time, I'm slowly working my way through Toni Morrison's The Source of Self-Regard, so that's in the stack, too. The ones at the front of the queue are The Word Pretty by Elisa Gabbert and Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. And a book I keep by my bedside always is Life Is Meals by James & Kay Salter. It is structured like a book of days, with every entry somehow related to food; it is a continual source of both delight and solace for me.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The book that started me on this path is, I think, D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, because it showed how dazzling and capacious reading could be. Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet and the Immortals quartet were also both key, I must have read and re-read them dozens of times.
Your top five authors:
Virginia Woolf, James Salter, Ursula K. Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Carole Maso.
Book you've faked reading:
The semi-joke answer would be something like Infinite Jest, which it seems anyone who went to a small liberal arts college somehow had to have read before freshman year. Generally, I try not to do this anymore, it doesn't end up making book talk any easier, and most people are usually happy to explain a book they've read and want you to read as well...
Book you're an evangelist for:
...which leads into this answer: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. These books are astonishing. They read just as well for a kid as for an adult; they grapple with intense and profound ideas about religion, physics, morality and power; they deliver an emotionally satisfying story; they make me cry. They are simply amazing.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I have a weakness for old pocket-size paperback editions of classic novels, especially if the illustration is tonally incorrect and makes the book look like a pulp.
Book you hid from your parents:
I'm not sure I ever did this. My parents took me to the library every Sunday and I could basically get whatever I wanted. Among the many ways they are amazing parents, this is probably one of the top.
Book that changed your life:
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. This book shattered what I thought sentences were supposed to do and let in the light of what was possible.
Favorite line from a book:
"Just when I most needed important conversation, a sniff of the man-wide world, that is, at least one brainy companion who could translate my friendly language into his tongue of undying carnal love, I was forced to lounge in our neighborhood park." Grace Paley accurately describes dating in your 20s.
Five books you'll never part with:
For food and cooking reference, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat and Dining In by Alison Roman. To the Lighthouse, as mentioned before. Light Years by James Salter, a stunner. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, especially the very '80s used copy I have. Finally, probably the copy of Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin I marked up in college.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Re-reading certain books, certain very good books, feels like the first time every time. You bring new things to it and take new things away, it's never the same book twice. To me it's one of the great pleasures of reading.