Book Brahmin: Valeria Luiselli

photo: Alfredo Pelcastre

Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City in 1983 and grew up in South Africa. A novelist (Faces in the Crowd) and essayist (Sidewalks), she won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35 award. Her new novel, The Story of My Teeth (Coffee House Press, September 15, 2015), is an elegant, witty romp through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City and Luiselli's own literary influences. 

On your nightstand now:

There is a pile. Or, really, there are two piles. One has Kathleen Alcott's Infinite Home at the top--the book I will be reading next. Under it is Naja Marie Aidt's Rock, Paper, Scissors; Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend; and Alejandro Zambra's Facsimile. The other pile keeps on changing, but at the top is M.N. Roy's fascinating Memoirs. He was a Bengali Brahmin and a revolutionary activist and writer who, among other things, eloped with an American woman in Palo Alto, escaped prison in New York, and then moved to Mexico City in 1917. There, he founded the Mexican Communist Party--the first Communist party outside Russia. His memoir is a masterpiece (and should be reprinted by someone, as it's almost impossible to find now). I got my copy from a library.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I read and loved José Emilio Pacheco's Battles in the Desert when I was about 11. Then, when I finished reading that, my sister thought I was ready for more, and gave me Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I don't know how much I understood, but I loved staying up late while reading it. It was the only way I was allowed to stay awake past my bedtime.

Your top five authors:

They change. But there are a few that I always return to: Joseph Brodsky, Juan Rulfo, Emily Dickinson, Saint Augustine and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Book you've faked reading:

Must I, really? Finnegans Wake by James Joyce.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Incidences by Daniil Kharms. Not that it needs my evangelism.

Poemas de terror y de misterio by Luis Felipe Fabre. Ditto.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I easily fall prey to some of New Directions' covers. I bought Nox by Anne Carson, even though I was broke. But Nox was worth it inside and out, of course. I also bought a New Directions book called A Little Ramble, thinking I was buying a strange Robert Walser collection, only to discover, on the subway back home, that it was a kind of homage to Walser, with contributions from several contemporary writers and artists. I was rather disappointed. But it's still one of the loveliest books on my shelves.

Book that changed your life:

The Cantos by Ezra Pound. It taught me to read differently. It was like graduating from two-dimensional geometry to the third or fourth dimensions.

Favorite line from a book:

A line by Emily Dickinson. Technically four lines, but I think they have to be read as a single sentence:

Presentiment--is that long Shadow--on the Lawn
Indicative that Suns do down--
The notice to the startled Grass
That Darkness--is about to pass.

Which character you most relate to:

I have never been able to answer this question. But when I was a child I was maybe in love with Huck Finn.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I've never managed to finish Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, so I always start reading it, again, from the beginning, as if for the first time.

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