Mona Simpson

Mona Simpson, author of Anywhere but Here, PEN/Faulkner finalist Off Keck Road,  and her latest, Casebook, on the books that today inspire her.

My Brilliant Friend
By Elena Ferrante
“This is the first book of Ferrante’s Neapolitan trilogy, about a friendship between two girls in an impoverished neighborhood in Naples. Through intense competition, envy, brutality, misfortune, and injustice, the two return to their friendship again and again. It’s an intimate, indelible portrait of young girls striving desperately for an education they need for more reasons than they even know. I read this book to study how Ferrante’s voice works. It contains raw viscerally pain while also offering the calm wisdom of a long perspective. Her voice feels necessary. Elena Ferrante is the Italian Alice Munro.”

Off Course
By Michelle Huneven
“I read this novel as it was being written (Michelle Huneven is a close friend and collaborator), and it’s my favorite book about harrowing, misplaced love. It beautifully captures the spell of youthful longing, as it spills from the heroine onto everything she sees and charts her gradual slide into an obsession that threatens to permanently derail her.”

The Practical Heart
By Allan Gurganus
“This is a painterly fable about discipline, injustice, chance, John Singer Sargent, and an unknown woman who inspired a young boy. It traces the making of a painting and the making of a writer and plays with notions of transformation and truth in storytelling.”

Selected Stories
By Anton Chekhov
“Chekhov’s people feel as visceral and intellectually present as anyone I know in real life. In particular, writing Casebook, I studied ‘The Lady with the Lapdog’ and ‘Three Years,’ to compare Chekhov’s divergent takes on love. He was not a romantic. He’s an almost unbearable realist. He believes in kindness and decency above any particular ‘feeling.”

The Empathy Exams
By Leslie Jamison
“I’m reading this thrilling book right now. Jamison has a thoroughly trustworthy voice and a ranging imagination.”