Reading with... Nina Revoyr

photo: Monica Almeida

Nina Revoyr is the author of five previously published novels, including The Age of Dreaming, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Southland, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2003; and Wingshooters, which won an Indie Booksellers Choice Award and was selected by O, The Oprah Magazine as one of "10 Titles to Pick Up Now." Revoyr lives in Los Angeles. A Student of History is her latest novel (Akashic Books, March 5, 2019).

On your nightstand now:

One big, meaty biography: Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. One book on current affairs: State of Resistance: What California's Dizzying Descent and Remarkable Resurgence Mean for America's Future by Manuel Pastor. One short story collection I just reread for the first time since grad school: Dancing After Hours by Andre Dubus. One book that's hard to categorize, Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which I read several months ago but keep picking up again, as it continues to move and instruct me.

Favorite book when you were a child:

There were a bunch: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls--it was read to us by our teacher in kindergarten or first grade, the first book I remember after we moved to the U.S. from Japan. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis; I imagined myself as a character in them. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Mockingbird is complicated, for all the reasons that have long been apparent and were only underscored by Go Set a Watchman--but it meant a lot to me, not least because I was confronted with my own racial difference on a daily basis; and because I was a tomboy being raised by a single dad. And A Separate Peace--a book that's so layered and morally complex that I didn't fully understand it until I read it again as an adult.

Your top five authors:

The top three are consistent: James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson. The other two rotate. Right now--and often--I'd say Louise Erdrich and Alice Munro.

Book you've faked reading:

Maybe a couple of boring college textbooks, but nothing else.

Book you're an evangelist for:

This changes, too. A few years ago I went nuts over Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins--which I only read because it had been recommended to me. Probably the novel I read with most joy and astonishment last year was Hari Kunzru's White Tears. What an inventive, powerful, challenging novel--it totally blew me away.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I think only a couple of photography books, not fiction or nonfiction--which is funny, because I pay a lot of attention to covers.

Book that changed your life:

Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner, which was published in 1974 and was one of the first gay-themed books to become a commercial success. I found it in a grocery store bookrack when I was in junior high. For a closeted kid in the early '80s--a very different time than today--it was an absolute godsend, an affirmation that I wasn't alone. The Front Runner revolves around track and field, and it's probably no coincidence that my own first novel, The Necessary Hunger, also involved sports, in my case basketball.

Book you hid from your parents:

See The Front Runner, above.

Favorite line from a book:

"For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness." --James Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues"

Five books you'll never part with:

I'm not sure I can limit it to five! I always think in terms of the 10 books I'd take to a desert island. They would include: Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son; Toni Morrison's Beloved and Jazz; Emily Dickinson's Complete Poems; Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and maybe Tracks as well; Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Stories; Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It; maybe Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men.

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

Toni Morrison's Beloved. I just read this again after 20 years or so. I've always considered it my favorite novel, but I hadn't actually looked at in a long time. When I read it in my 20s, I thought of Sethe and Paul D as old. Now, I'm almost a decade older than they are. It was amazing to read it again and realize that, if anything, I'd underappreciated it. It's just an absolute masterpiece in every way--literary, historical, emotional. I stand in complete awe of it, again and still, and I'm grateful it exists in the world.

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