Book Brahmin: Alice Randall

Alice Randall is the author of The Wind Done Gone and Pushkin and the Queen of Spades and is a frequent contributor to Elle magazine. Also an accomplished songwriter, she is the only African-American woman to write a number-one country song. Randall was awarded the Free Spirit Award in 2001 and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award in 2002. A writer in residence at Vanderbilt University, she lives in Nashville, Tenn. Her latest novel is Rebel Yell, published last month by Bloomsbury.

On my nightstand now:

Eat My Words: Reading Women's Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote by Janet Theaphano and Spoonbread & Strawberry Wine by Norma Jean and Carole Darden. I'm teaching a seminar on Soul Food in text and as text. An example of soul food in text would be both the mention of chitterlings in Gone with the Wind and the meaning of ice cream in Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying. Soul food as text would include the literal analysis of a plate of food or a meal to discern if it has expressive content beyond simple taste--an assertion of competence in precisely fried chicken or masculinity in the barbecue ritual. I keep the novels by the bathtub. I prefer to read fiction up to my shoulders in warm water.

What's by your tub now:

Clea by Lawrence Durrell and Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty, but I really meant to grab Carson McCullers's Member of the Wedding, Epitaph of a Small Winner by Machado de Assis, The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales by Charles Chesnutt, A Great Improvisation, Stacy Schiff's Franklin in Paris biography and a few murder mysteries: two Carola Dunns--Damsel in Distress and Murder on the Flying Scotsman--a Carolyn Haines--Ham Bones--and a strange yoga mystery called Corpse Pose by Diana Killlian.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Wuthering Heights.

Your top five authors:

I turned 50 this year. I will give you my five favorite novels that have gone the distance with me, novels that I read as a very young woman and I have re-read at least once every decade since:

  • Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Are Watching God
  • Jean Rhys: Wide Sargasso Sea
  • Jane Austen: Emma, Mansfield Park
  • Edith Wharton: House of Mirth and Age of Innocence
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

Book you've bought for the cover:


Book you've faked reading:

The English Patient. I just couldn't really get through it. But I wanted to go to the movie. I love so much Ondaatje--Coming Through Slaughter is one of my very favorite novels. But I did not love The English Patient. Coming through Slaughter is visceral, compressed, American, African-American, Southern. For me The English Patient is too cerebrally international. I get lost.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Coming Through Slaughter. For all the reasons above and because it's a visit to the inside of the South for the non-Southerner.

Book that changed your life:

Two. Wharton's Age of Innocence read in tandem with Kate Chopin's The Awakening. I decided to get a divorce.

The problem with doing your duty is it unfits you for doing anything else. At least that how I remember the Wharton line from Age of Innocence.

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

A Hundred Years of Solitude. Marquez is escapist literature of the most profound sort. My first read of A Hundred Years of Solitude at 17 was a dash back to sanity, a dash into a place where all that mattered was engagement and language--and reading Marquez I was in full possession of both. I turned the pages in a cold shared room in London with gloves on my fingers when I was supposed to be writing my college essays. It was January of 1977. I started the book at the end of a flight from Dulles to Heathrow, and a day later I was literally in London, about to settle into a semester as a visiting student at the Institute of Archaelogy, but I was truly someplace else. The book had transported me beyond childhood and misery and America into curiosity, adventure and the world.

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