Friday, March 29, 2013

Amy Shearn

Amy Shearn's first novel, How Far Is the Ocean from Here, was published in 2008. Her new novel is The Mermaid of Brooklyn.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Shearn's reply:
I’ve been reading a lot of novels to review for work lately, and I’m new to reviewing, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about how great and exciting these books are before the reviews are published on the site. Is that a thing? It seems like it might be a thing, so I’ll refrain and just say: check out my reviews on in the next few months because there are some wonderful novels coming out that I was lucky enough to read before you.

When I was revising my novel I was also in the process of moving and also, you know, rearing my two small and very time-consuming children, and I just got so busy and found myself so tired all the time that this terrible thing happened: I had a reading drought. I’ve always thought of myself as a reader first, maybe before even a human, so this was truly catastrophic. I felt miserable and too inside my head all the time. Then some friends and I started a slow-readers’ book group, giving ourselves forgiving windows of time in which to finish books, even though we all were formerly voracious readers and felt that it shouldn’t take us months to finish a novel but there you had it. This book group saved me, and jumpstarted my reading for pleasure again.

Our first book was Girl Reading, a lovely and unusual novel from British writer Katie Ward. It’s really more of a linked story collection (not to quibble), all about the imagined stories behind famous images of girls and women reading. It’s one of those books that reminds you of the particular magic of literature and art, how deeply nourishing they are. Ward writes of one of her reading girls, “The rhythms of the story fill her up.” I felt that way reading this; I love books that invite you to rethink what a book can be, and this is just such a work.

Then there was J. Robert Lennon’s latest, Familiar. Lennon is one of those writers who does something completely different with every book he writes, and I find that to be really encouraging and horizon-widening. This book is that greatest-of-all-things: the smart, literary page-turner. It’s about a woman who, without warning, finds herself in a slightly altered version of her old life; she has a different job, a changed marriage, and her dead son is alive. It’s unsettling and beautiful and thought-provoking on a what-is-this-life-level. And it also has one my favorite character descriptions in recent memory: “He appears so confused here, among these strange young people, and all the light and color. He belongs in a library, surrounded by brown things.” As do I.

The book on my nightstand right now – well, as a figure of speech, there’s really a slightly menacing tower over there, but the one I’m actually in the middle of right now – is The History of Us, by Leah Stewart. It’s a novel about three grown children who were reared by their slightly reluctant, not-that-maternal aunt, in the Cincinnati mansion in which the aunt grew up (and worked hard to escape). There are finely-drawn characters here, and an intricately woven family secret (gotta love those), but maybe what I love most is how the setting is this crucial piece of the story. As the aunt tells her girlfriend, “A lot of people see it as a failure to stay in the place where you’re from, especially if you’re from the Midwest. Like ambition is geographic.” Everyone in the book has complicated feelings about the gorgeous but ponderous house and the unglamorous city in a way that strikes home with me. Of course, I live in New York, which for all its annoyances and idiosyncrasies as one of the characters puts it perfectly, “is one of those places that is an idea,” and New York City is a big part of my novel, so of course I love reading about this other side of that coin.

Next up on my list: The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. I haven’t read a good old musty classic in a while, and I just saw an opera version of this, and also have been thinking about the uncanny a lot lately, so it seems like a good way to go. As the tiredest reader in the world, I just hope I can stay awake for James. Wish me luck.
Visit Amy Shearn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue