The Interval x Summer Reading


One of the great things about being a fan of someone is that it’s a bridge to finding out about other people and things that you might not have encountered. One of the great things about summer is that it gives people time to catch up on all the books that they’ve been wanting to read. Now, we’re bringing those two things together! Throughout the month of August, we’re asking a variety of artists to tell us about some of the books in their lives. Check out their answers and then check out the books. 

 

Actress and author of After Anatevka and the recently released memoir White Hot Grief Parade, Alexandra Silber tells us about some of her favorite books.

 

What’s a book that you’ve given as a gift?

The Griffin & Sabine

 Trilogy by Nick Bantock. When I was 16, I was introduced to author and visual artist Nick Bantock’s trilogy of books (Griffin and Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook and The Golden Mean), and was instantaneously moved by it in a way I had never been moved by a book before.

The book is a boundless feast for the senses—visually stunning, emotionally stirring, mixing in touches of mystery, philosophy, mythology, and even a dash of science fiction—on the pages containing simultaneously immaculate and chaotic “mail art” artwork, all used to tell a story. This homage to the old fashioned post, combined with its phantasmagoric love story, were all created by Bantock himself.

Depressed London artist Griffin Moss receives a postcard one day out of the blue from an unknown South Pacific island. It simply states:

Griffin: It’s good to get in touch with you at last. Could I have one of your fish postcards? I think you were right—the wine glass has more impact than the cup. —Sabine

But Griffin had never met a woman named Sabine. How did she know him? How did she know his artwork? Who is she?

Thus begins the strange and intriguing correspondence of Griffin and Sabine. Each letter they exchange is pulled directly from an envelope attached to the pages of the book, so the reader must engage in the delightful, forbidden sensation of reading someone else’s mail. Come on: that’s sexy stuff.

What’s a book that made a huge impression on you in high school or college?

Howards End by EM Forster. I first read Howards End under the expert inspirational tutelage of “Lady” Judy Chu, my high school British Literature teacher of such remarkable influence. I read it in the spring, when every blossom seemed to beckon me to the country estate. It is the perfect time of year to read this classic. My lovingly thumbed-through high school copy still sits on my adult bookshelf—complete with my 17-year-old scrawl penning such comments as:

“Well: London sounds dreary.”
“Note to self: sign every letter ‘BURN THIS…'”

and my favorite:

“Oh! All of this LOVE!”

Like all of Forster’s early novels, Howards End concerns itself with Edwardian society. But the magic lies in the novel’s remarkable heroine Margaret Schlegel—without question the literary heroine I first “recognized,” and prayed resided within my own soul. Margaret is a font of love, intellectualism, imagination, and idealism, and the shimmering inner life of her mind is all shared with affection by the (charmingly biased) Narrator.

But it is Margaret’s “battle cry” that makes Howards End a masterpiece of the heart:

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”


What is a book that made you see the world differently?

Hands down: Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. It might be the best piece of non-fiction I’ve ever read. An exploration about parents and children, when children are not in fact apples that don’t fall far from the tree—but might, in fact, fall very, very far from the tree indeed, sometimes in a different orchard. He explored the notions of horizontal and vertical identities between generations, and the fact that “reproducing” is not in fact a reproduction of the parental self, but a production of a permanent relationship to a stranger. He explores this by immersing himself in horizontal cultures such as Deafness, the Transgender community, criminals, prodigies, individuals with Down Syndrome, and many others. By exploring our differences, Solomon ultimately reveals what we all have in common: humanity.


What’s the book you would most want to be adapted into a piece of theatre?

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. Cosmicomics is a book of short stories first published in Italian in 1965 and in English in 1968. Each story takes a scientific “fact” (though sometimes a falsehood by today’s understanding), and builds an imaginative story around it. A being called Qfwfq narrates all of the stories, save two, each of which is a memory of an event in the history of the universe. Qfwfq also narrates some stories in Calvino’s t zero. All of the stories feature non-human characters with very human qualities.

 

Lauren Patten, who recently blew audiences away in Jagged Little Pill, tells us about some of the books that made an impact on her.

 

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. Levy is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and I’ve admired her articles and profiles for a long time. This book explores her relationship to marriage, fidelity, and motherhood, and it’s absolutely riveting. I just graduated from the Creative Writing program at The New School, with a focus on personal essays and creative nonfiction. So, Levy’s ability to craft expert narrative from life experience is a skill I deeply admire.

 

What’s a book that made a huge impression on you in high school or college?

The Harry Potter series. Certainly not a unique experience, but this series had a major influence on me as a teenager. My sister is 7 years older than me, which was a tough age difference when I was little. But as a teenager, when she had moved out, I read the entire Harry Potter series aloud over the phone to her. We bonded through the epic journeys, and through Ron and Hermione’s romance. It kept us close even when we weren’t together.

 

What is your favorite book that you wish more people knew about/had read?

I just finished an incredible book called Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. It’s a manifesto of sorts written by Serano, who is a transgender activist. Her argument—that both the trans rights & feminist movements will remain stuck if we do not come together to see that we are fighting against the same thing, oppositional sexism—is deeply illuminating. The insights from her personal experience and her research are vital to me as a feminist and a trans ally. I want to shove it into everyone’s hands and make them read it.

 

Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes shares some of her book picks.

 

What’s the best book you’ve read recently? 

Kitchen Confidential. I’m on a memoir kick, as I’m writing one of my own at the moment. Bourdain’s language is explosive and he spins a great foul-mouthed yarn. Dynamic, conversational writing. He loves and hates all at once. It’s so relatable. Also, Giovanni’s Room. As a [James] Baldwin fan, it had been years since I’d read his fiction. The book felt edgy, dangerous, and disorienting. The narrator’s persistent self-denial—his delusion really—was scary. Self-loathing can run so deep, and it can wear the mask of sarcasm.

   


What’s a book that you’ve given as a gift?

I gave my little sister a book about puberty and adolescence when she became a teen. She kept it, and decades later, re-gifted it to my daughter. 

What’s a book that you have read multiple times?

The final pages of [Ntozake] Shange’s for colored girls… is practically disintegrating from all the times I’ve thumbed through them. It’s a weekly habit. I don’t even bother re-shelving the book; it just stays on the carpet beside my writing desk. It doesn’t even gather dust, that’s how frequently I pick it up.

 

What’s a book that made a huge impression on you in high school or college? 

Flannery O’Connor—all the short stories. And Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. I was a polite teen. I swallowed my anger, smiled through my outrage. Those two writers dispelled me of the notion that politeness is useful or strategic. Being real and raw, to the point of brutalizing national mythology, suddenly seemed quite necessary.

  

 

What is a book that made you see the world differently?

My most prized books are my small collection of out-of-print texts on Yoruba, Ifá, and Lukumi practice, in both Spanish and English. My mother gave them to me during my teenage years so I could learn about her spiritual practice. They are full of my underlines and highlights. They gave me language for all the spirituality I’d witnessed for years.

 

 

Tony nominee Jenn Colella tells us about some of her book-ish thoughts!

 

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

The Power by Naomi Alderman. It is a speculative fiction wherein women discover they now have physical power over men and how that shift changes the world as we know it. It’s riveting.  

 

What’s a book you haven’t read yet but are excited to read?

Many Lives, Many Masters [by Brian Weiss]. I’m interested in learning more about the concept of reincarnation and gathering transcendental knowledge as we evolve. I also dig the notion that god is in each one of us. That book has been recommended to me more than any other, and I’m excited to finally introduce my heart to its teachings.

 

What’s a book where you wish you could be friends with the characters?

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe [by Fannie Flagg]. I wanna be suuuuper close “friends” with that sexy bee charmer, Idgie Threadgoode.  

 

What is your favorite book that you wish more people knew about or had read? 

This is a toss-up: The Presence Process by Michael Brown and The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz. Both are highly transformational reads. One of my partners wanted to have The Presence Process bronzed and on display because it proved so valuable in our relationship.

 

If you purchase any of the books through the links provided, The Interval may receive a small commission.