The Writers Who Read series continues today with Pamela DiFrancesco.
Who are you?
My name is Pamela DiFrancesco. I’m a writer of fiction who has been published in literary magazines such as The New Ohio Review and Monkeybicycle. The Devils That Have Come to Stay is my first novel. I’m also a social justice activist, working mainly these days in the queer community, though in the past I’ve done things like help organize relief efforts after Superstorm Sandy, and volunteer in a radical publisher’s office. And I’m a bookseller at New York City’s legendary Strand Books.
What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The Velveteen Rabbit, The Cat Who Went to Heaven, and Bunnicula. As you can see, I loved animal stories.
What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen. As someone who has studied post-modern literature quite a bit, this very non-traditional book appeals to those sensibilities. But, since it was written by Cohen, you can read just for the pleasure and beauty on every page. For example, the line “ordinary eternal machinery like the grinding of stars” occurs on several pages, and it’s just one of Cohen’s many stunning similes and uses of poetic language.
What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
I love books that very skillfully disassemble the traditional process. Samuel Beckett is a favorite because he manages to do away with elements like plot and character motivation, and still write brilliant, funny, heartbreaking prose that keeps you engaged for hundreds of pages. Now, if done poorly, this approach can really, really fail. But the masters of it are what gets my literary heart beating the fastest.
What is your ideal time and place to read?
As a 14-year New Yorker, the subway is where I get my best reading done. I know the book I’m reading is a winner when it makes me miss my stop.
Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I’d say Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell taught me that the genres can be worked in in a masterful manner that transcends them, which is something I’ve been experimenting with in my writing ever since. Lolita taught me that every last letter counts (though Nabokov had synesthesia that made him see every letter as a color, so he really had an unfair advantage in that respect). Everything is Illuminated helped me learn that different points of view can greatly enhance a story.
How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I don’t think you can have one without the other. Careful reading, in my opinion is a prerequisite for being a good writer. There are writers who say they never read, and this reminds me of the old stories about people who locked children alone in a room hoping that if they weren’t taught any human language, they would learn the language of God. So much of writing comes from what’s come before it, tradition and lineage, and being aware of what’s out there already in the world.
Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical books are my favorite. The smell, the margins to write in (and, if it’s a used book, reading the previous owner’s marginalia), the feel of the pages between your fingers–these are things e-books will never be able to replicate.
Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I was mainly a fiction reader my entire life, so now I try to alternate fiction and non-fiction titles. As a bookseller, I have a huge queue of recommended books and books I’ve bought cheaply waiting for me to get to them. Sometimes something will come along that completely jumps the queue, though. So the extent of my planning is the ever-growing pile of books on my desk.
What are you reading now?
I just finished A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, a wonderful book about a rebellious Mennonite girl who has had half of her family flee the stifling town they live in. I’m in the middle of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami.