The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Lynn Kanter.
Who are you?
I’m the author of Her Own Vietnam, a novel about a woman who served as a U.S. Army nurse in Vietnam, and 30 years later must grapple with her history on the eve of the war in Iraq. The book was published in November 2014 by a new feminist press called Shade Mountain Press. I’ve also written two previous novels, The Mayor of Heaven and On Lill Street. I’m a lifelong activist, and I work for a national social justice organization. Oh, and I’m a newlywed – if you don’t count the 21 years my wife and I were together before we got married.
What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Mary Poppins by P. L Travers – which is much darker than the Disney movie.
Mary Changes Her Clothes, a book written and illustrated by a family friend, Ellie Simmons. I was six years old when I met the author. She signed her book for me and added personal illustrations, such as a dog that says, “Hello, Lynn!” It made a big impression on me. I still have the book.
Miss Bobbie by Ethel Turner. I believe the book was published in 1908. This novel was my grandmother’s favorite book when she was a child, and I loved it too. The book was about a little girl who’s being raised by her father after her mother died. He must travel abroad, and leaves her for some weeks with another family that has five boys. Miss Bobbie learns to live like a boy – climbing trees, playing fiercely, making her own decisions. Then her father returns with a new wife, and Bobbie realizes her days of freedom are over. It was the first feminist novel I ever read.
What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
It varies day by day. Right now it’s the novel Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. I write a blog and a newsletter that are (mostly) about books by women, so I have many ways to share my bookish enthusiasms in addition to cornering people at parties.
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 tell a great story and have women protagonists who live in a wider world than just their own relationships and problems. If a book can take me behind the scenes of an event or a life – historical or fictional – or reveal it to me from a new perspective, even better.
What is your ideal time and place to read?
Weekend afternoons. In warm weather, on the back porch. In cold weather, in front of the fireplace. Also, in bed at the end of a long day.
Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I’m not sure there are specific books, but there are some writers whose work has influenced me, such as Barbara Kingsolver and Carol Anshaw. Both of them write good, sturdy prose about characters who face challenges in their own lives and are also aware and connected to the broader world and the issues of the day.
How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Reading is an everyday activity, while writing for me is cyclical. There are periods when I’m writing intensely and have only a few minutes a day to read, and other periods when I’m not writing much at all.
Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I read all three. Physical books are my favorite; like many readers, I love the feel of a book, its heft, the promising whisper of the turned page. I also listen to a lot of audiobooks, because they turn non-reading time (commuting, housework) into reading time. Ebooks are great for traveling. I always have a pathological fear of running out of reading material while away from home.
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 love this question. I’ve been in a book group for about 20 years. We read books by or about women – mostly novels, but some nonfiction as well. Our current book is Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee. We have a somewhat chaotic system for choosing our future books, but usually manage to plan out several months in advance. I also keep a haphazard TBR list, but it’s just to remind myself of books that sound good. I would need to quit my job and give up on sleeping in order to read them all.
What are you reading now?
I’ve got three books going: Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett M. Davis, To the River by Olivia Laing, and The Rainy Season: Three Lives in the New South Africa by Maggie Messitt.