Monday, August 25, 2014

Courtney Miller Santo

Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she earned her MFA. She is the author of the novels The Roots of the Olive Tree and the newly released Three Story House.

Early this month I asked Santo about what she was reading. Her reply:
A few months ago, I decided that I didn’t have enough variety in the books I picked out. So to challenge myself, I try to read one popular fiction, one classic, one poetry and one nonfiction book each month. I stash them all over the place so I’m always reading different ones at different times. The poetry book is always in my purse and the classic by my bed.

I’ve already finished Townie, which was my nonfiction pick for the month. I took it with me to my twenty-year high school reunion and had devoured it by the time I returned home. Andre Dubus wrote one of my all time favorite short stories (“Fat Girl”) and I’d loved Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog when I read it in college. Townie is a memoir about growing up with a father who is a writer and also about the intersection of poverty and violence. I read some of the boxing chapters through my fingers, but in him I recognized so much of my brothers (I have four) and so much of my own childhood. A compelling read.

Earlier this summer I had a chance to visit Taormina, Italy and learned that many writers including DH Lawrence spent time there. In fact it turns out he based Constance Chatterley on an English woman he met in the Sicilian resort town. Since the last time I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover was purely for the shock value, I’ve been revisiting the novel and looking at it as a compelling read about class divisions. However it is dense! It will definitely take me the whole month of August to finish.

I’ve had Orphan Train sitting around for months and had intended to read it, but hadn’t gotten to it. I love books that braid two stories together and move around in time in surprising ways. I also love authors like Christina Baker Kline who work quietly for years without getting much notice and then write a book that resonates and sort of moves across the interconnected circles of readers. And of course, given my own novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree, I loved Vivian. I hope this is the beginning of a trend of having more older women in novels.

Poetry is something I always read because I’m supposed to, but I also find that it speaks to part of me that I can’t reach by reading narratives. I have no system for choosing the poetry books. But I really enjoy reading a whole book of one person’s verse. So often we encounter poems by themselves and they seem lovely but also lost. In being able to read an entire book, like Louise Gl├╝ck’s The Wild Iris is to feel a deep connection to the center of the poems. I’m at a point where these poems, so many of which are about spiritual issues, are necessary in the same way that water is.
Visit Courtney Miller Santo's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Roots of the Olive Tree.

Writers Read: Courtney Miller Santo (November 2012).

My Book, The Movie: The Roots of the Olive Tree.

My Book, The Movie: Three Story House.

--Marshal Zeringue