|photo: Maximiliano Schell
Sarah Blake's first novel, Naamah, is a queer retelling of the story of Noah's ark from his wife's perspective. It won the National Jewish Book Award for Debut Fiction and the Bisexual Book Award for Fiction. Her works of poetry include Mr. West, Let's Not Live on Earth and the forthcoming In Springtime. She was awarded a literature fellowship for her poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her second novel, Clean Air (Algonquin, February 8, 2022), is set in the aftermath of a climate apocalypse.
On your nightstand now:
I read on apps on my phone, so on my "nightstand" right now is A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet, which is having me take a bunch of screenshots every time I love a sentence or a paragraph. I even had to text a friend when I came to this one, "The water carried us: we were carried."--because it's perfect.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I remember loving A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle when I was 10. I think it was the first time I thought about telepathy, and that was pretty wondrous to consider. And that was all that I remembered about it until the movie came out.
Your top five authors:
Wow. It's a difficult question because there are so many authors who I love, but when I think about it, my opinion is based on one book that I've read by them. So here are my top five who I love and I've read nearly everything that they've ever published: Lucille Clifton, Marie Howe, Brenda Hillman, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, George Saunders.
Book you've faked reading:
There are MANY that I've faked reading all the way to their ending. And I will admit to none of them here, as I've written papers about those books, and I'm still friends with the professors to whom I submitted those papers.
Book you're an evangelist for:
If you've been looking for a good contemporary novel, then I've probably told you about Cecily Wong's Diamond Head, which I loved. Her second novel, Kaleidoscope, is due out in July, and I can't wait!
Book you've bought for the cover:
I always buy a book based on reading the first few pages, but if I ever did buy a book for its cover, I would have for Karim Dimechkie's Lifted by the Great Nothing. I love the colors, the fonts and the layout. I find it utterly charming.
Book you hid from your parents:
I'm not sure my parents could be offended by anything. My mom was buying me Sylvia Plath, The Clan of the Cave Bear and The Thorn Birds when I was in middle school. When my dad reads the Goodreads reviews of Naamah, he says things like "There wasn't that much sex in it." We're just not an easily offended bunch!
Book that changed your life:
Plainsong by Kent Haruf is told entirely linearly, but every few pages there's a new chapter and it's told from a different point of view--all to tell the same story. That is to say--it's not like a lot of books of late that use multiple points of view to tell multiple stories. I'm not explaining this perfectly, but the book found me at the exact time that I needed it. I knew I wanted to write fiction, but I wasn't sure my brain knew how to write novels like the classics I loved. This book reminded me of how many different ways a novel could be.
Favorite line from a book:
Well, as this is impossible, I will put this from Brigit Pegeen Kelly's poem "The Orchard": "And then it growled. And I saw/ That the horse was a dog. But the apples/ Were still apples."
Five books you'll never part with:
I have a copy of The Source by James A. Michener, which my mother gave me, and I have loved it so well that it's lost its front cover. I've bought a backup copy to lend out from now on.
I have a similarly falling apart copy of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I remember the exact place and time I was when I decided to read the first page and decide whether or not I should buy it and spend the afternoon reading it--a used bookstore in New Jersey in 2008. I came to the dream about the singing tables and the decanters that were women, and I was sold.
I have a copy of a 1971 printing of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which my mother has written notes throughout from a college course she took. The price of the book is printed on the cover: $1.65.
I have a signed copy of the hardcover of Marie Howe's The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, which I will always treasure.
And finally, my copy of the first edition of The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction: Fifty North American Stories Since 1970. Cathy Day taught me about the short story from this collection, and I return to it over and over.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I never want to read a book over again that I loved when I was younger. I know far more now and find myself overly critical. What if I ruin something for myself that I once loved! I would like to read a few short stories over again for the first time, but I'm happy to reread them for the one millionth time, too--namely, "One Arm" by Yasunari Kawabata.