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.