|photo: Mark Miller
Aimee Bender is the author of the novelsThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and An Invisible Sign of My Own, and of the collections The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures and The Color Master. Her works have been widely anthologized and have been translated into 16 languages. She lives in Los Angeles with her family, and teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. Her new novel, The Butterfly Lampshade (Doubleday; July 28, 2020), is a luminous and poignant meditation on identity, family, memory and mental illness.
On your nightstand now:
Ursula Le Guin, Conversations on Writing with David Naimon
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi
Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera
Minor Feelings, Cathy Park Hong
This Is Pleasure, Mary Gaitskill
The Tradition, Jericho Brown
And War and Peace, Tolstoy, for A Public Space's reading together series, but I am way behind.
Favorite book when you were a child:
There were so many! The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by the inimitable Julie Edwards (Andrews) was one.
Your top five authors:
This is hard. I have an ever-fluctuating list. James Baldwin, Marilynne Robinson, Samuel Beckett, Denis Johnson and Haruki Murakami are today's.
Book you've faked reading:
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I really love Joyce but not that Joyce.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Cruddy by Lynda Barry. I loved it when I read it and then taught it years later and kept laughing at how dark it is, how funny, how fresh. She is just a master at voice and surprise.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Also for the insides! But that cantaloupe cover and small size book for those dense intense beautiful nuggets of story. Yes.
Book you hid from your parents:
Forever, Judy Blume
Book that changed your life:
The Fever by Wallace Shawn. I heard him read from it at Tin House Writers Conference years ago and bought and read it (it's a monologue) and couldn't get it out of my head. What a provocative and effective way to encounter the idea of white privilege.
Favorite line from a book:
Again, so hard to pick! I have lines marked in all my favorite books. But how about this one, from Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera:
"Both she and the servants were surprised because they had never heard of anyone who had drunk boiled window, but when they tried the tea in an effort to understand, they understood: it did taste of window."
Five books you'll never part with:
I bought a paperback copy of Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid with money I made for my first story sale to a college literary journal. Then an edition of Rinkitink in Oz I bought with money I made from my first book sale. A first edition of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle that a kind friend gave me when I was having a tough time going through a divorce. Several signed books by friends from graduate school, including Caucasia by Danzy Senna, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, because it was absolutely extraordinary to see those remarkable books on regular paper in workshop and then one day hold them, bound, in my hands.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I recently reread Beloved, and it was almost like reading it for the first time; it had been 20 years. And it was so astonishing to read what she was doing again, the risks she took so freely to let us into the worlds of her characters, the time, the place. I'd love to read it again for the first time. I also saw her influence in a way I hadn't 20 years ago--how so many of the books I'd read in those decades were so clearly and vividly impacted by her.