In the summer of 2003, Maile Meloy took some time out to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?
Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. I read it when I was making the tentative transition from kids' books to grown-ups' books, and it was a revelation to me. Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang for the same reason.
What are your ten favorite books -- and why?The Collected Stories of John Cheever -- Because they come back to me all the time. I carried them everywhere about five years ago, and I still sometimes get sort of overcome with the memory of them. Not really specific scenes or lines but the feel of reading those stories. I wish I could do what he does. Also, Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger, for the same reason. "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" was my favorite the last time I read it.
Appointment in Samarra, by John O'Hara
Geoffrey Wolff's great new biography of John O'Hara, The Art of Burning Bridges.
A Book of Common Prayer, by Joan Didion, or her first novel, Run River. I love Joan Didion.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner -- Because of the ending.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy -- It had a huge effect on me, and I spent some time trying to find another book that would re-create that effect. I don't know if there are any.
Edie: An American Girl by Jean Stein, edited by George Plimpton -- The oral biography of Edie Sedgwick -- it's unrelentingly fascinating and great, about glamour and fame and money and excess and families and the '60s.
Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose -- It's a sort of biography about the marriages of five Victorian writers: Ruskin, George Eliot (who wasn't really married), the Carlyles, John Stuart Mill, the Dickenses. It's really wonderful.
The Border Trilogy, by Cormac McCarthy. Also, Blood Meridian. I don't really know what to say about those books, the effect of them is so powerful. I wish there were more of them, but that sounds ungrateful and that's not how I mean it.
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. I love that book.
American Pastoral, by Philip Roth. Anything by Philip Roth.
That's more than ten, but also Nostromo, Lolita, Pale Fire, A Handful of Dust, In Our Time, A Farewell to Arms, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The Decemberists, Castaways and Cutouts and Five Songs.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
Everyday and Prophetic: The Poetry of Lowell, Ammons, Merrill, and Rich, by Nick Halpern, because I just started it and I love it, it's brilliant.
What are your favorite books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
The Duke of Deception, by Geoffrey Wolff, together with This Boy's Life, by Tobias Wolff. (After their parents divorced, Geoffrey lived with their father and Tobias lived with their mother, and they both wrote memoirs.)
Who are your favorite writers?
In no order: Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O'Connor, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Richard Hugo, Wallace Stegner, Joan Didion, John O'Hara, John Cheever, James Salter, Lawrence Durrell, Nick Halpern, Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Cyril Connolly, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Ann Patchett, Alistair McLeod, both Wolff brothers.
Merce Rodoreda, a Catalan writer who lived in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. She does a wonderful thing with innocence -- it persists, in her novels, in situations that wouldn't seem to allow for it.
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