|photo: Jason Frantz
Rachel King is the author of the novel People Along the Sand and two poetry chapbooks. Her short stories have appeared in One Story, North American Review, Green Mountains Review, Northwest Review and elsewhere. Her latest book is Bratwurst Haven (West Virginia University Press, November 1, 2022), a collection of 12 linked stories about workers in a sausage factory.
Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:
Linked collection of stories tracing the vocational and emotional bargains made by workers at a Colorado factory. Rajia Hassib calls it "intriguing and tenderly rendered."
On your nightstand now:
How to Carry Water: Selected Poems by Lucille Clifton and Swing Time by Zadie Smith. Next up is my colorful stack of unread One Story (the literary magazine) stories from the past couple years.
Favorite book when you were a child:
When I was very young, I really liked the picture book Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber, where a kid is worried his friend will tease him when he takes a teddy bear to a sleepover--then he learns that his friend sleeps with a teddy bear, too. In junior high, I carried around The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and read it over and over. I think I internalized that running away could mean saving yourself and changing yourself--it's probably one reason why I wandered across the country as a young adult.
Your top five authors:
I like one or two books by innumerable authors, but authors I'd love anything they wrote: August Wilson for his breadth of characterization and his dialogue, Colm Tóibín for his depth of characterization and his pacing, James Baldwin for his language and his philosophy, Virginia Woolf for her language and her images, and Iris Murdoch for her humor and her plots.
Book you've faked reading:
Possibly The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger in a conversation with an acquaintance in college (I still haven't read it). Usually I don't mind not having read something. There are so many books to read.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Recently I recommend The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns, a short novel about a girl with an abusive father who realizes she can levitate. It's innovative on both the sentence and plot level as well as darkly funny, and will appeal to lovers of both literary fiction and genre fiction.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson in an online New York Review Books Classics sale. The author, swimming in a lake, smiling, is on the cover. She looks in her 50s or 60s and has a flower garland on her head and a cabin on the rocks in the background. The photo portrays a life I hope I'm moving toward.
Book you hid from your parents:
I remember while reading Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin when I was about 12 I thought my parents wouldn't want me reading the scene where a truck driver solicits the author for sex. But my parents didn't monitor what I read, and I usually read in their living room, so if I was hiding it, I was hiding it in plain sight.
Book that changed your life:
My first published novel, People Along the Sand. Living alongside the five main characters, exploring the questions implicit in the plot (What are the pleasures and limits of solitude? Can people belong to a place? Who or what are we responsible for?), writing it, rewriting it, revising it, sending it out, deciding how to publish it and embracing the small but warm reception for it--all of that formed me in many ways.
Favorite line from a book:
For the past decade, I would have said, "Sometimes you look for the world, and it's there" from my favorite poem "When Comfort Arrives" by Tom Andrews in his collected poems, Random Symmetries. But this year, I keep returning to a quote by the Russian artist Marianne von Werefkin: "One life is far too little for all the things I feel within myself, and I invent other lives within and outside myself for them." I read it in a library book about expressionist artists, though I can't remember which one.
Five books you'll never part with:
My signed copies of Smoke by Dorianne Laux, Like You'd Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard, and Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. My parents wrote a note in my copy of The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. My spouse gave me The Americans, a book of photography by Robert Frank, who is one of my artistic models. "I am always looking outside," he said, "trying to look inside, trying to say something that is true."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Human Wishes, a book of poetry by Robert Hass. At age 25, I sat in my car in a grocery store parking lot after getting off work and read the whole thing. It's full of lines like, "It made you glad for beauty like that, casual and intense, lasting as long/ as the poppies last," and afterward, I began to reimagine the possibilities of how I could live and view my life.