Bookmas! with Missy Marston

Bookmas: When every present better be rectangular in shape. And the heavier the better!

Today’s not-so-secret BookSanta: Missy Marston!

Missy Marston‘s writing has appeared in various publications, including Grain and Arc Poetry Magazine. She was the winner of the Lillian I. Found Award for her poem, “Jesus Christ came from my home town.” Her debut novel The Love Monster won the 2013 Ottawa Book Award for Fiction. She lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

What 2014-published fiction would you recommend?

can’t and won’t by Lydia Davis. I love everything about this book. I love the way it looks (a beautiful stylish small hardcover, white with green and black print) and I love the way it reads. Lydia Davis, I learned quite recently, writes these wry little micro-stories. They range from one sentence in length to six or seven pages. There is a poetic beauty and a ferocious restrained voice in every single one. Some you will like for the title alone. One favourite of mine is, “I’m Pretty Comfortable, But I Could Be a Little More Comfortable.

What 2014-published non-fiction would you recommend?

This Great Escape: The Case of Michael Paryla by Andrew Steinmetz. To be fair this book was published in 2013, but I haven’t read any 2014 non-fiction titles yet. This book is the biography of a distant relative of the author who appeared for 57 seconds in the WWII movie The Great Escape. Perfect for people interested in the war, in movies, in Steve McQueen and — because it can’t help but turn into a memoir of sorts — the connections within families. Beautifully written and innovative in structure.

What one book do you believe needs more love?

Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess. An original work of great beauty. I don’t know why it didn’t win every prize going. See me going on about it here.

What book that you’ve read in 2014 (not necessarily a 2014 book) would you recommend?

Glass, Irony & God by Anne Carson. The first poem, The Glass Essay, is a stunner. Best exploration of a furious, mature, intelligent woman shattered by stupid romance I have ever read. Gut-wrenching.

What ongoing series of books would you recommend?

This year I read The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn. There are five and I tore through them. Dark fictionalized autobiography (about childhood sexual abuse and the aftermath). I wasn’t sure at first what I thought of them, but there is a precision and economy in the laying out of the story that is impressive. And it seemed to me an important story to tell. Not sure it is a good Christmas present.

What author would you recommend?

Saul Bellow. Because he is relatively new to me and when I read Herzog the thought that went through my mind was this: Oh, I see. There is another level of writing I was not aware of. Beautiful diamonds on every page. Literally dozens and dozens of single sentences that are as lovely as the best poetry I have ever read.

What’s the one book you’ve read in your lifetime that you think everyone should read?

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. If you haven’t read it, just read it. It is brilliant. Best novel I have ever read. And it is probably not what you think it is. It wasn’t what I thought it was.

Also: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut. Full of good lessons for humans and many surprises of form.

Let’s go specific: what books would you recommend for:

  • The science-fiction fan: My book, The Love Monster! There is very little science in it, but there are green aliens from outer space. And I think it is pretty funny.
  • The horror fan: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates. So good. So creepy. Will haunt you forever. Raisin eyes. *shudder*
  • The fantasy fan: Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Is it fantasy? I don’t know. Stupid genres. There is a story featuring an aging prostitute that teaches her dog how to go to her grave and cry real tears. It feels like fantasy. And it is very, very good.
  • The strict realism fan: Experience by Martin Amis. Memoir by the funniest man alive.
  • The thriller/mystery fan: Being Dead by Jim Crace. Again, I may have the genre wrong, but this is a great book with a mystery in it. Also very creepy.
  • The non-fiction fan: Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown. History made magical.
  • The Canadian fan: See above.
  • The romantic: The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago. Sad proof-reader takes risks, wins the love of a beautiful lady.

If, god forbid, people couldn’t find your book, who else would you suggest they seek out for a similar literary fix?

You can find my book. I believe in you.

OK, I will give this a try. Most of the writers I read and love do not sound like me. First of all, they are better writers than me. Second, there is something generational at work. I think that most people tend to read writers who are older than them, which is true of me. When I have recognized something similar in writing, it tends to be by writers who are more or less my contemporaries, those who have grown up listening to the same music and hearing the same news. Jennifer Egan comes to mind. Rick Moody in his earlier work*. Though, I would never presume to put myself in the same field as either of them. Christ.

*Rick Moody has always been an incredible talent, but with The Diviners he established himself as a towering genius if you ask me. Those opening 13 pages are a literary wonder. Worth it to buy the book just for that. Anybody who gets that book for Christmas is a lucky person.

And finally, what would you recommend for the holidays in a non-literary context?

For people who celebrate Christmas, it tends to be the holiday that is not a holiday. If you can make it happen, plan a few pyjama days with people you love. Movies, take-out food, no visitors. Just relax for heaven’s sake.