|photo: George Baier
Amy Poeppel, author of Small Admissions and Limelight, lives in New York City and Frankfurt, Germany. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Rumpus, Belladonna Comedy and Working Mother. Her novel Musical Chairs was just published by Emily Bestler Books.
On your nightstand now:
I'm about to start reading Candice Carty-Williams's Queenie, which was recommended to me by a librarian friend. (If you aren't good friends with a librarian, you don't know what you're missing.) I recently finished Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Inheritance by Dani Shapiro and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett and loved them all. I'm a huge fan of complicated family stories. I'm currently reading The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Frances books (Bread and Jam for Frances, A Birthday for Frances, Best Friends for Frances...), written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban, were my favorite picture books when I was young. They have so much humor in them.
Later, when I graduated to chapter books, I read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder dozens of times. I'm not sure why that book appealed to me so much, but I think it prepared me well for quarantine.
Your top five authors:
For many different reasons--from beautiful writing to memorable characters to complicated family dynamics to laugh-out-loud humor--I love reading Jesmyn Ward, Toni Morrison, Elinor Lipman, Stephen McCauley and Tom Robbins.
Book you've faked reading:
I was a pretty unmotivated high school student, so I'm sure I (unsuccessfully) faked reading a few books back then, although I don't remember which ones. There are so many books I'm ashamed that I haven't read, but I'm comfortable admitting it because there's still time! For example, I'm mortified not to have (yet) read The Underground Railroad, Moby-Dick, Buddenbrooks, Educated, Homegoing, Othello and The Brothers Karamazov, to name only a few.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I am forever recommending Beloved by Toni Morrison. I taught this book to high school students, and with each reading, I saw something new, some beautiful phrase that took my breath away. Beloved taught me more about humanity and history than anything else I've ever read.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I already owned Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, but I had to buy it again when I saw the marvelous Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition--the cover is illustrated by the brilliant and hilarious Roz Chast.
Book you hid from your parents:
Forever by Judy Blume. I can remember with horror the moment when my mother found it. She was shocked, but I loved that book and learned a lot from it about love, sex and teenage relationships.
Book that changed your life:
I'll have to go with Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons. When I was getting my Master's in Teaching degree, I did my practicum at Concord Carlisle High School and was looking for a book to give to a student who told me he hated reading. I asked my advisor Mary Leonhardt, veteran English teacher and author of 99 Ways to Get Kids to Love Reading, for help and she suggested Ellen Foster, which I read in a day. When I gave it to the student, he finished it over the weekend and came enthusiastically to my desk, asking for another book recommendation. Ellen Foster made me appreciate the power of first-person narration, the way a good story can hook even a reluctant reader, and how certain characters stay with you for long after you put the book down. I have recommended Ellen Foster to countless people over the years.
Favorite line from a book:
From Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist:
"She lowered her head to the grocery bag she held and she breathed in. She said, 'Don't you love the smell of brown paper bags filled with raw vegetables?'
" 'I like it very much,' I said. Trying to stay on an even keel but feeling a lot of love for her and wanting to lie down on the sidewalk as a result."
That image does me in every time.
Five books you'll never part with:
My copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry that I got in college.
Katherine by Anya Seton because my grandmother gave it to me, and it sparked my love of historical fiction.
My tattered, highlighted copy of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing because I met my husband when we were cast in that play together.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner because I love an engrossing family saga, and I remember my mother reading it.
My worn copy of Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons because it made me want to be a writer.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
A Secret History by Donna Tartt because of the way the story unfolds. It's a suspenseful and thrilling read.