Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Julia Keller

Julia Keller was born and raised in West Virginia, and now lives in Chicago and Ohio. In her career as a journalist, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series she wrote for the Chicago Tribune about a small town in Illinois rocked by a deadly tornado.

Her new novel, Last Ragged Breath, is the fourth book in the Bell Elkins Series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Keller's reply:
No fiery manifesto, no passionate proclamation, no defiant diatribe—but somehow, this became My Summer of Re-reading. I began revisiting books that I’d first loved long ago. New novels have been in the mix, too, of course—who can resist a fresh face?—but for the most part, I’ve strolled down literature’s memory lane. I re-read My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather, and found nuances I’d missed the first time around in the brief but pungent story of a woman’s self-betrayal, and then I moved on to Night And Day by Virginia Woolf.

Like everyone, I love To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, the novels for which Woolf is mostly known, but for some reason I picked up this, her second novel, once again. I know I’ve read it before—I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Virginia Woolf and read each of her novels multiple times—but for the life of me, I barely remember this one. Yet as I read my battered copy, I keep coming across phrases I had underlined and passages I had circled, complete with copious exclamation points in the margins. The novel seems vibrant and new, as if it could’ve been written just weeks ago. It’s a love story—two couples chat and spar and flit about each other—but it’s so much more than that as well: It is about youth and what happens to it, and it is about how much of our fate lies in our own hands. “Like most people, I suppose,” a character muses, “I’ve lived almost entirely among delusions, and now I’m at the awkward stage of finding it out. I want another delusion to go on with.” This is an astonishingly wise and psychologically acute novel, and it’s also a great deal of fun; Woolf’s playful sense of humor is often forgotten by those who get distracted by her long, mournful face and by her reputation for penning only dense interior monologues. Truth is, Woolf would’ve been the one slipping whoopee cushions beneath the unsuspecting backsides of the Bloomsbury group.

What else? Well, I’m just finishing up Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize, and it is every bit as grave and graceful and heartbreaking as you’ve heard. I adored H Is for Hawk, the memoir by Helen MacDonald about how training a wild creature helped her deal with the wildness of her grief over her father’s death. And I just embarked on Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic. I’d sort of given up on Russo after the first few chapters of his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Empire Falls, which I found coy and unconvincing and vaguely misogynist, and then I chanced upon Bridge of Sighs, and was utterly, insanely captivated. It’s one of those novels that you think about even when you’re not reading it—and that you can’t wait to get back to.

Oh, and I just bought Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, and am racing through it. Robinson keeps the “science” in “science fiction,” but his chief gift is in creating narratives and characters that are plausible and compelling. During the same bookstore run, I snatched up The Lewis Man by Peter Man, sequel to Blackhouse. It is said that when you open the score of Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman,” you can feel the sea spray in your face; the same thing happens when you set forth upon this series set in the Outer Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.
Visit Julia Keller's website.

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2012).

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2013).

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2014).

--Marshal Zeringue