Reading with... Matt Young

photo: Tara Monterosso

Matt Young is a Marine Corps veteran, teacher and writer. His work can be found in Incoming: Veteran Writers on Coming Home, Consequence magazine, Split Lip, Word Riot, Tin House, River Teeth and many others. He teaches composition, literature and creative writing at Centralia College in Washington State. He is the author of Eat the Apple (Bloomsbury, February 27, 2018), a multi-genre flash nonfiction war memoir about his three combat deployments to Iraq between 2005 and 2009.

On your nightstand now:

I always have a few. I'm rereading The Horse Latitudes by Matthew Robinson. It's a novel about cavalry soldiers in Iraq. It has a fever dream quality that I love, the dialogue is snappy and it's doing some pretty interesting things with form and content as well. I've been reading poems from Ada Limón's Bright Dead Things for my lyrical fix. Also, my wife is about 28 weeks pregnant with our first child, so I've been reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit aloud to her belly at night to get the kid used to my voice.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Tiny Matt loved The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg. For every birthday I hoped I'd have some weird relative show up and give me an egg that would hatch into a giant monster that would do my bidding--still holding out. Also, preteen Matt was a big R.L. Stine fan. You know. The classics. Say Cheese and Die, Monster Blood, The Haunted Mask (which would subsequently turn out to be the best television adaptation of any of the stories). The book that moved me into more advanced material was Grendel by John Gardner. Pubescent Matt really identified with that misunderstood monster.

Your top five authors:

Disclaimer: This is sure to change almost immediately. Stephen King for keeping me up until dawn when I was a teenager. Denis Johnson for lyrical, glorious sentences. Annie Proulx for her attention to and love of character and place. Junot Díaz for beautiful voices and explorations of masculinity I desperately needed as a younger man. Han Kang for The Vegetarian, which was so bizarre and gorgeous I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I read it last year.

Book you've faked reading:

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I could not for the life of me make it through that book. As a young dude writer I felt like I was supposed to love Kerouac, and because I didn't, I also felt like some kind of fraud because of how hard young dude writers in creative writing classes often fan-boy him. So I used to nod and smile and say things about loving the stream of consciousness or whatever. But I don't care for him and I've since given up trying.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I worked at Borders in 2010 and a coworker recommended it after she saw me reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman during break. From then on, I rec'd it way too enthusiastically to every customer I saw wandering through the fantasy and sci-fi section. It still has my glowing recommendation. Hi, I'm Matt, welcome to Borders, have you heard of Patrick Rothfuss?!

Book you've bought for the cover:

Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Black cover, white lettering. It looked mysterious--like, damn, what could be in there that this book cover can just be plain as all hell? I feel like his books always have really great covers.

Book you hid from your parents:

I snuck Pet Sematary by Stephen King into a stack of books my mom was buying when I was pretty young. It scared the ever-loving crap out of me. The scene where Louis is walking through the woods over the deadfalls and the Wendigo-demon-thing is just beyond the veil? Damn. But I didn't want to tell my parents, so I spent some sleepless nights holed up in my room with the lights blazing.

Book that changed your life:

Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. It's one of the first books I can remember reading that would be categorized as creative nonfiction today. The way Kingston blends myth, identity and history is beautiful. The entire story as this thing you're not even supposed to know from the get-go felt illicit and intimate like some kind of whisper--I loved that.

Favorite line from a book:

"Our eyes register the light of dead stars." It's the opening line from André Schwarz-Bart's The Last of the Just. I read it maybe eight years ago and I still think about it at least once a month. There's a portion of the book where the main character comes to think of himself as a dog and my heart cracked a bit at that loss of humanity, and then I recalled that first line and my heart broke the rest of the way because I knew I should've seen it coming. It made me think about my own life as something foreseeable.

Five books you'll never part with:

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston for being the book that changed the way I understood what a memoir could be. In Pharaoh's Army by Tobias Wolff for the multitudes of feeling coming out of the pages--it came as a recommendation to me when I was trying to figure out how to become human again after the Marine Corps, and it helped me understand that I could be proud of my service and conflicted as hell about it the same time. The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek for changing my mind about the Midwest after I ran away from it. Close Range by Annie Proulx--every story a punch to the solar plexus. I've had the same copy of Grendel by John Gardner for 20 years. It might be my oldest surviving book--it was the first thing I bought with my employee discount from the children's bookstore I worked at when I was 14.

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

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I read it the year after I left the Marines. I was in an airport--airports always make me emotional--going to visit family when I bought it. It wrecked me. It was the book that made me want to write.

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