Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Brilliant Seattle Author Speaks

Below is an article on todays Shelf Awareness, and I have to post it here because once again I find myself in complete agreement with an authors choices of the best fiction and best plays ever written. I feel EXACTLY the same way about Ironweed by the glorious William Kennedy. It amazed me, filled me with wonder at the power of words and made me weep when I finished it, because such beauty had been wrought from such dire subject matter. Kennedy's "The Flaming Corsage" was also an incredible read. And early John Irving is delicious...its just in later works that he became a jerk and started saying outrageous things in interviews such as the line about prostitution being a perfectly wonderful career for women, one that most women should experience (that's just nasty).
Anyway, I also agree about the power and glory of Shakespeare, though my personal favorite is the Tempest. He created the most wonderful plays with the most exquisite language ever written. He is the once and future master of words.
I am going to have to find a copy of Kallos book and read it next year, because now she's intrigued me by her honesty and good taste in literature!

Book Brahmins: Stephanie Kallos

Stephanie Kallos spent 20 years in the theater as an actress and teacher
before coming out of the closet as a writer. In 1996, she was
commissioned by the Seattle Children's Theatre to adapt Pinocchio; her
published short fiction has received a Raymond Carver Short Story Award
and a Pushcart Prize nomination. Her first novel, Broken For You, won
the Washington State Book Award, the PNBA award and was chosen by Sue
Monk Kidd as a Today Show book club selection in December 2004. Her
second novel, Sing Them Home, will be released this coming January 6 by
Atlantic Monthly Press. Stephanie lives with her family in North Seattle
and pulled herself away from the library that is her nightstand to
answer a few questions:

On your nightstand now:

Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines by Kay Gardiner and Ann Meador
Shayne; The Fasting Girl by Michelle Stacey; Oh Pure and Radiant Heart
by Lydia Millet; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; Sacred Contracts by
Caroline Myss; Autism and the God Connection by William Stillman;
Journey of Souls by Michael Newton; Fasting Girls: The History of
Anorexia Nervosa by Joan Jacbos Brumberg; and two books on writing:
Robert Olen Butler's From Where You Dream and Naming the World edited by
Bret Anthony Johnston. I always have many knitting projects on the
needles and many books on my nightstand--both of which drive my husband

Favorite books when you were a child:

Pretty traditional stuff, I'm afraid: A Wrinkle in Time and Little Women
for fiction--although I could never get past Beth's death. I also read a
great deal of nonfiction as a kid--biographies of noble achievers that
left me feeling very inadequate and laid the foundation for my
predisposition for guilt and shame. And there was a series of books by a
man whose name I believe was Frank Edwards. I'm sure they're out of
print now, but I'd love to find them again. They had titles like Strange
But True and recounted supernatural/inexplicable events like spontaneous
human combustion and frog downpours. I loved that stuff. Still do.

Your top five authors:

This is a toughie, because any writer I love and have learned from is a
favorite. So I'm going to treat this like a "If you were stranded on a
desert island" question: J.D. Salinger, Anne Sexton, John Irving,
Shakespeare, Ian McEwan.

Book you've faked reading:

I'm terrible at faking, which is too bad since I'm embarrassingly
ill-read. If I were inclined to fake having read something, it would
surely be something by one of the Russians. I admit to having nodded my
head knowingly when the conversation turns to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Actually, I could start faking an acquaintance with Melville if I wanted
to, thanks to my kids: the other day at breakfast my sons shocked the
hell out of me by reciting, in chorus, the opening lines of Moby Dick.
"How do you know that?" I asked, incredulous. They informed me that one
of the characters in the Bone books uses Melville as a reliable
soporific. However, since I have very little trouble falling asleep
these days, I'll probably never get to it. And now I'm outed.

Book you're an evangelist for:

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It's hard to evangelize
for a book that is so unflinching and dark, but it's an incredible work,
one that faces a hot-button, contemporary issue head-on, in all its
complexities. It's the most relentlessly truthful and thought-provoking
book I've read in years.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Recently Alice Hoffman's The Fourth Angel and a novel called Salvage by
Jane Kotapish.

Books that changed your life:

Ironweed by William Kennedy. I found it astonishing. When I put it down,
I felt that one could learn everything one needed to know about writing
a novel by reading it.

Atonement by Ian McEwan. I still study that book---and all of McEwan's
work--because no one has the ability to dive more completely and
fearlessly into the heads of characters than he does, to explode a
single moment in a person's life in a way that lends it a profound and
enduring significance. Atonement also opened up the potential power of
storytelling to me in a way that no other book has ever done. That book
was an artistic shock to my system; that's the only way I can describe

Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. The second time I acted in that play, I
played Paulina. The experience was earth-shattering in terms of what it
taught me about Shakespeare's use of language, the physicality of it,
the power of sounds in and of themselves. It was that play--and the
subsequent gift of getting cast in other Shakespearean roles--that
taught me that language is gestural. A physical force. Shakespeare still
exerts the biggest influence on my work as a writer--he just did
everything right.

Favorite line from a book:

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice--not because of his
voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even
because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is
the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen
Meany."--John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany.

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

All of Thoreau; The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand; Doris Lessing's The Golden
Notebook . . . Really, any of the books I read in my early 20s, because
for the most part they were books that weren't mandated by curriculums
or given to me by relatives; they were books I found on my own or
through friends. These were the books that helped me begin to define
myself apart from my parents. I'll also add To Kill a Mockingbird, even
though it was required (and controversial) reading at my junior high;
every time I read that book it feels like the first time.

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