Book Brahmin: Ed Tarkington

photo: Glen Rose

Ed Tarkington received a B.A. from Furman University, an M.A. from the University of Virginia and Ph.D. from the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Florida State. A frequent contributor to, his articles, essays and stories have appeared in Nashville Scene, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Post Road, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Southeast Review and elsewhere. A native of Virginia, he lives in Nashville, Tenn. Tarkington's debut novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, was just published by Algonquin (January 5, 2016).

On your nightstand now:

Among others, Patti Smith's M Train. I am a huge fan of hers and delighted to learn from her experience that binge-watching crime shows on Netflix is not incompatible with being a literary artist of the highest caliber.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, especially "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi," my obsession with which is partially responsible for my unrelenting, pathological fear of snakes.

Your top five authors:

Melville and Faulkner are like the Beatles and the Stones--so essential you just take them for granted. I think Toni Morrison is the USA's greatest living writer, followed closely by Philip Roth. John Irving, Ken Kesey and Walker Percy jumpstarted my own ambitions. I have studied their careers with fanboy obsessiveness.

Book you've faked reading:

I faked having read Joyce's Ulysses for longer than I care to admit. Fearing exposure, I finally read it in secret. Sadly, I couldn't share my excitement without revealing that I'd only just read the book after years of expressing strong opinions about it.

Books you're an evangelist for:

James McBride's The Good Lord Bird belongs on the shelf next to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the canon of essential American novels. My wonderful teacher Elizabeth Stuckey-French turned me on to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, and I've been pushing it on people ever since--so much wicked wit in such a compressed package! Brilliant.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Epicure's Lament by Kate Christensen. A cigarette extinguished in an oyster shell--sold!

Book you hid from your parents:

When I was maybe 13, a friend with more liberal and bookish parents than mine discovered Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin stashed away in the attic. It became quite a notorious bit of literary contraband in my adolescent circle of friends. Very, very naughty, but quite beautifully written.

Book that changed your life:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

Favorite line from a book:

"It's the truth, even if it didn't happen." --One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Five books you'll never part with:

Moby-Dick, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Moviegoer and The World According to Garp.

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

There are so many! Most recently, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I went AWOL from my family for an entire Saturday to finish it and wept with gratitude and admiration as I read the last few pages. When I went to see Ms. Tartt read in Nashville, I asked her to inscribe my copy to my daughters because I can't wait to give them the gift of that experience when they're old enough to read it. On the title page, between their names and her signature, she wrote, "Words are the only real magic there is." Cool, right?

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