Good to Know
"My first published work was a series of features on the anti-road building protests in Britain," Griffiths recalled to us in our interview. "Environmentalists began taking direct action, building whole villages of treehouses in the woods which were threatened by road-building. They tunnelled under the route of the proposed road and protested with style, wit and raw courage."
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In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads. Here's what Jay Griffiths selected:
Enough of that Nonsense by Stephen Hancock
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
The Gift by Lewis Hyde
At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien
Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Prison Writings: My Life is my Sun Dance by Leonard Peltier
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
In the winter of 2004, Jay Griffiths took some time out to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
Probably the first dictionary I ever saw influenced me more than any other book. As soon as I saw a dictionary when I was a child, I was struck by the sheer power of vocabulary, and the way that you didn't have to wait for adults to tell you words, but you could find them yourself. I now have the full OED microprinted edition, which is like a whole world to me.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood was a book I read when I was about nine, and it ran through me like electricity, because the words shone, and I had never seen words do that before.
Adrian Mitchell's collection of poetry, Heart on the Left is the book of the utmost comfort. He is a big man, big-hearted and soft with years of knowledge. Even his anger comes through tears and his poetry is the poetry of world-love made all the more vehement by his hatred of injustice.
James Joyce's work, particularly Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake was very important to me when I first read it, because it made me see that, yes, the English language was so intimate with other languages, that parts of words slipped into other words, that language itself was wild, free and gloriously alive.
Barry Lopez's book Arctic Dreams was a book I read before and after I went to the Arctic myself. If the Arctic could speak, this is what it would say. It is meticulous in its scholarship, but it takes wing, it shines with light, with an enormous compassion.
Fritjof Capra's book The Tao of Physics has a special place in my life, because I read it when I was ill in hospital, my partner had just left me, I had about 45 pence in the world and no home. And I lay in bed and cried and then I asked a friend to bring me this book, and I read it, and it was a kind of transcendence for me, out of my situation and into pure thought. My body didn't work, but my mind did. Which was a start.
Gary Snyder's poetry and prose, collected, as unabridged as possible. I love his work for its balls and generosity; I love it for its raunchy wisdom, I love it because Buddhism and wild, hairy dreams are both there.
Michael Ende's book Momo is allegedly for children -- but it isn't. It's our privilege as adults to read this, because it takes a child -- who doesn't know how old she is, and doesn't care -- to tell the world of modernity how it has lost its soul.
Seamus Heaney's poetry is extraordinary to me. He holds words in his hands like wet clay and rubs them till they speak more perfectly than they knew how to before. His anthology of other people's poems, Rattlebag is eternal, funny and beautiful.
Susan Griffin's book, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her suggests the weight of history, the error in the canon of thought which ignores or despises women. It also made me hear the wild roar of women's knowledge.
Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre was a book which I must have read some twenty times, and it gave me, and millions of women, a role model of independent thinking, though the psyche may be crushed with loneliness, its independence is priceless.
Vandana Shiva's work, Monocultures of the Mind and all her writings are, I find, quite a brilliant synthesis of social comment, feminism, science, polemic and passion. She is a renaissance writer.
Bill Neidjie's book Story About Feeling is a work of subtle poetry, an Aboriginal Australian's evocation of land and meaning; suggestive and acoustic in its appeal. It gives you a way of thinking which is wise and rich and full of story and love -- and feeling.
Adrienne Rich's poetry is to me a gift -- to have seen the world as she has and to carve her insight into the words.
David Abram's book The Spell of the Sensuous is a remarkable odyssey in the journey of written language, and how that has in fact been partly responsible for western society's break from nature.
W. B. Yeats is just one of the many Irish writers who take my breath away. He writes where the air is thin, high in the mountains, and he sees the meaning of something before the actuality of it.
Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible was an extraordinary novel of the human story, and in reading it you feel as if all human life is there. She inhabits the mind of each of her characters so fully that the work comprehends the human condition.
Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch was an event for me, for probably the usual reasons; I read it and felt a vindicated rage.
Isabelle Eberhardt's work, The Passionate Nomad is a moving, personal, diary of an extraordinary life, she was depressive, poor, alcoholic, reckless, furious, loving, and took literature as her pole star. Because she had to.
What are some of your favorite films?Atanarjuat -- The Fast Runner -- the Inuit film produced recently
Frida -- The film about Frida Kahlo
The Blue Planet -- The BBC series about the world's oceans
What types of music do you like?
The Pogues, Beethoven, Arvo Partt, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Bob Marley, Aboriginal didgeridoo music, Copland, Strauss, Leonard Cohen, Manu Chao, Piazzola, Orchestra Baobab, Debussy, Bruch, and Mahler.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
We Are Everywhere edited by Notes from Nowhere. This is a compendium of protest and direct action from around the world, which is produced with vigour and vitality. It makes you realize how we who object to the insanities and injustices of contemporary politics are huge in number. Though we may not feel like it.
A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist is a book which should be compulsory reading because in it you see how bombing, including deliberate civilian bombing, has been used to such deadly effect by the very countries which profess peace to the world.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I usually only give books I've read myself. Recent gifts include Adrian Mitchell's Heart on the Left for a girlfriend who was ill, and Isabelle Eberhardt's The Passionate Nomad to two girlfriends who are on a mission in their lives.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a book about the concept of "wilderness."
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
Will Holloway is a London-based performance poet, the creator of the cult stage persona "Mr Social Control." His work is breathtaking in its range, wickedly funny, highly political and done with resplendent panache.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Writing is both an art and a service, I feel. The world has probably never needed real writers more: writers, that is, who walk out into the world and ask questions, act as good messengers to their readers and are faithful to what they know.
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