|photo: Juan Carlos Garcia
Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author of poetry and prose for adults and teens who lives in El Paso, Texas. He was the first Hispanic winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and a recipient of the American Book Award. His new YA novel, Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World (Simon & Schuster), is the sequel to 2012's Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was a Printz Honor Book, a Stonewall Award winner, a Pura Belpré Award winner, Lambda Literary Award winner and a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award.
On your nightstand now:
Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican-American Literature on Families in Between Worlds, edited by Sergio Troncoso. The city in which I live is full of families who live in transition and who live in a liminal space struggling to find a space in the world.
Favorite book when you were a child:
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I have always loved this fable that is definitely not for children. And The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams--such a lovely message of what it means to love.
Your top five authors:
Gabriel García Márquez, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison. These are the writers who represent greatness to me. They are writers who set the standard of excellence not only in their writing but in their thinking.
Book you've faked reading:
Ulysses by James Joyce. I hate this book, and I find it impossible to read. Only a crazed literary critic could love this book. I feel the same way about T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.
Book you're an evangelist for:
The Price of the Ticket by James Baldwin. His collected essays on race and the position of Black people in America still stand as a testament to his brilliant mind. Baldwin is the only writer I've ever read who made rage sound elegant.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I don't ever think I've bought a book for its cover. But then again, when I walk into a bookstore, I already know the books I'm going to buy. And these days I order the books I want by mail.
Book you hid from your parents:
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. My mother and father would not have approved of me reading that book. My aunt had told my mother that the book was written to seduce us to the dark side and was Satan's way of getting to our children. My aunt was crazy.
Book that changed your life:
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. The book has been banned off and on. I read it during the Vietnam War, and it remains the most powerful antiwar novel that I have ever read. That book shaped my views on war.
Favorite line from a book:
The last lines of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez: " 'And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?' he asked. Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and nights. 'Forever,' he said."
Five books you'll never part with:
A signed special edition copy of Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. A first edition of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! My worn-out copy of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, translated directly from the Greek and which I've had since I was 21. The two-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary (despite the fact that I have an online subscription) and Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints (which exists in a four-volume set). Did I cheat? I always cheat on these things.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. This book blew me away when I first read it. I read it again in graduate school. That was 30 years ago. Time to dive back into the waters of that book.
What made you become a reader?
I had four brothers as roommates. I read to escape.
So why do you read now--is it also to escape?
No, I read books that make me confront the world I live in.