Reading with... Sophfronia Scott

photo: Rob Berkley

Sophfronia Scott holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Sandy Hook, Conn. Her latest novel is Unforgivable Love: A Retelling of Dangerous Liaisons, set in 1940s Harlem (Morrow, September 26, 2017).

On your nightstand now:

The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber. I have a fascination with artists and this book is a novelization of the tumultuous life of Pamela Bianco, a child prodigy artist whose mother, Margery Williams Bianco, wrote the famous children's book The Velveteen Rabbit. It's about madness and genius, and the multiple highs and lows that encompass a person touched with both.

The Girl of the Lake by Bill Roorbach. Roorbach is a master storyteller so I was excited to get my hands on his latest collection of short fiction. I'm savoring these stories and his engaging characters.

Olio by Tyehimba Jess. Jess's poetry is ambitious, stunning. The whole book is a fierce work of art and each turn of the page is an adventure.

The Good Divide by Kali VanBaale. This down-to-earth novel is set in the 1960s, on a Wisconsin dairy farm. You've got a small town community, family secrets and an unresolved death of a young woman. I'll finish it soon because the prose is beautiful and swift, making it hard to put down.

Selected Poems by Adonis. A friend recently turned me on to this celebrated Arabic poet who began publishing work in the 1950s. The poems in the book span his entire career, and I'm intrigued to follow the growth of his voice and observant critique of society.
Favorite book when you were a child:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Of course I had a mad crush on Dickon! And I still have that renewed garden in my head. I remember drawing pictures of it--flowers upon flowers--and hoping someday I'd have such a garden.

Your top five authors:

Toni Morrison: Her voice is like a song constantly in my ear, reminding me what beautiful writing sounds like, and what's possible with the English language.

J.K. Rowling: In scope, vision and edge-of-your-seat storytelling, the Harry Potter series is a major accomplishment.

Zora Neale Hurston: In life and on the page this woman was bold and beautiful.

Charles Baxter: His fiction and nonfiction are both powerful and risky. His work pushes me to be a better writer.

August Wilson: His 10-play cycle changed the face of American theater. I'm inspired by the ambition it took to create such amazing work.

Book you've faked reading:

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I know I've got to read more Russian literature but it's always slipping down my to-read list.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Whenever anyone asks me to recommend something, without hesitation I start talking about this book. I loved this perfect, heartbreaking story of two lonely people developing an endearing late-in-life friendship and love. The fact that the author was terminally ill and completed the book right before his death makes reading it all the more poignant.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Open by Andre Agassi. I'd always been curious about the flashy tennis player but I bought his autobiography solely because of his strong, clear-eyed gaze staring out from the book's cover. Something told me that gaze meant he wasn't going to pull any punches, that he had some real things to say about his life. The book didn't disappoint me. He was truly that open.

Book you hid from your parents:

A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon. My father never learned how to read, and when I got older, my mother didn't pay attention to what I brought home from the library, so I never really had to hide books from my parents. But if I had to hide one, this would have been it. It marked my "teenage girl reading about sex" stage.

Book that changed your life:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I was about 13 when I read this book and it opened the world to me because Jane taught me how to think. She was always cognizant of her situation, always considering what she wanted her life to be and how to move toward what she wanted. I realized I could have agency in my life in the same way, and I found that so empowering.

Favorite line from a book:

"If I could show them how much I love them and how much their love means to me, they could not hear it with human ears or see it with their eyes, but I stand in the middle of their suffering anyway and they do not know that I am here." --The Mover of Bones by Robert Vivian.

Five years ago I was in my kitchen making muffins listening to a recording of the author reading this excerpt from his novel. It represents the voice of a missing young woman speaking from beyond the grave. It was so beautiful it literally brought me to my knees in tears.

Five books you'll never part with:

When I was about 11, a fire destroyed part of my family's home. My father, who was very superstitious, said we couldn't keep anything that had been burned even if it seemed salvageable. It was bad luck. However I snuck into the damaged area and rescued the six books I bought at school from the Scholastic Books order form. I'd saved up to get these books, the first I'd ever owned, and I refused to throw them away. They sit on my shelves to this day, their pages crumbling, two of them with their covers burned off. They are:

The Bionic Woman: Welcome Home Jaime by Eileen Lottman. This is a novelization of an early episode of the television show. I loved Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman--I had the doll and her red bag of accessories. The doll didn't survive the fire. The book did.

Jenny by Gene Inyart. Girl acquires a baby brother (bad) and then a puppy (good!).

Lisa, Bright and Dark by John Neufeld. The noted novel about a teen with mental health issues.

A Smart Kid Like You by Stella Pevsner. A girl dealing with her parents' divorce.

Freckled and Fourteen by Viola Rowe. Teen bewails her red hair and freckles. Since I have red hair and freckles, I felt this book was required reading.

My Sister Mike by Amelia Elizabeth Walden. Tomboy Mike is a talented basketball player whose prettier sister gives her a makeover so she can turn the tables on a guy from the boys' team, who dates Mike on a bet.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

We Danced in Bloomsbury Square by Jean Estoril. Debbie Darke narrates the story of her and her fraternal twin, Doria, getting accepted to attend a prestigious ballet school in London. Long before Harry Potter existed, this book showed me what it was like to get singled out for your abilities and sent away to school in an exciting new landscape. Debbie worried if they didn't get into the school, their Liverpool life would be "dust and ashes." I grew up in a rust belt steel town so I could totally relate. When I first read this book, I envisioned myself wearing the same school uniforms and walking through London parks with the Darke twins and their classmates. I wish I could read this book for the first time again, so I could feel the hope of those daydreams once more.

The most beautiful book you own:

Emily Dickinson: Gorgeous Nothings, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin. This big white coffee-table book catalogues the "envelope poems" of Dickinson--work she wrote on scraps of paper. I love that the images of the delicate envelopes are so sharp and clear you can see every wrinkle and fold and you can almost feel them in your hands. It's simply thrilling.

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