Today is the release date for Diana Spechler’s fabulous novel, Skinny. Yesterday I reviewed the book (I loved it) and today Diana is stopping by with a guest post. I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite authors, or the authors who have inspired her, and here is what she had to say.
When I got to graduate school, I found out I’d read all the wrong books.
On the first day of workshop in my new MFA program, my classmates and I introduced ourselves by divulging where we’d been and what we’d been reading. I’d been in college. Specifically, I’d spent the summer working at a bar in Boulder, Colorado, where my uniform had included a miniskirt. And all I’d read, really, ever, were the books high school and college students nationwide are required to read, and books my mom had given me, most of which I adored, but which I suspected weren’t cool. I loved The Catcher in The Rye. I might have kind of loved Huckleberry Finn, except I wasn’t sure I’d actually finished it.In graduate school, everyone else was really old. Like twenty-seven. They’d lived. Some of them were married. And they all seemed to know the same authors. There was a club for literary grownups, and I totally wasn’t a member. Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, and Joy Williams—names that, a decade later, are among the most significant in my life—were then foreign to me. It turned out that the literary canon was not welcome in my MFA program. There was a whole other canon, a writers’ canon, and if I didn’t start familiarizing myself with its contents, everyone was going to know I was, like, really freakin’ young.So for the next two years, whenever I heard one of my classmates mention a writer I didn’t know, I wrote down the name, went to the library, and read at least one of his or her stories. (Lucky for me, in graduate school, we worship short stories over novels.) If I liked the writer, I read more, but the goal was just to get to know the “writers’ writers.” I wanted to be able to talk the talk. But moreover, I got the impression that immersing myself in these authors would help me walk the walk.In many ways, I learned to write in graduate school by reading George Saunders, Alice Monroe, Antonya Nelson, and all the other writers’ writers I scrounged up in the University of Montana library. What I’d felt at thirteen when I read The Catcher in The Rye—that racing-heart, dry-mouthed excitement, that certainty that I was going to Be A Writer—I was feeling again at twenty-two, as I discovered Tobias Wolff, Junot Diaz, and Aimee Bender. An amazing thing happened when I started reading the writers who excited me: Somehow, I kept finding more. There were so many great writers! (But of course, to exclaim so aloud was uncool.)
Now, the writers who excite me the most change all the time. I still have my staples, like Raymond Carver, who can get my pulse going with a sentence or two. But the books I keep near my laptop, my literary porn, so to speak, change pretty frequently. Right now, my nearest stack includes Suzanne Rivecca and Ann Beattie.
Finally, when anyone asks me if I’ve read an author I’ve never heard of, I feel okay saying no. I used to lie—“Oh yeah, I love her stuff”—which I don’t condone. Lying is terrible. Now I just lie about music. Of course I know some band from some suburb that sounds so much like some other band from some other suburb.
Okay, truthfully, I know The Beatles. I really dig Bob Dylan. And until I decide to pursue a life as a musician, that’s good enough for me.
LOVE HER! Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Skinny – you will not regret it!
Diana Spechler is the author of the novels Who by Fire and Skinny . She has written for the New York Times , GQ , Esquire , Details.com, Nerve, Glimmer Train Stories , and other publications. Spechler has an MFA from the University of Montana and was a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University. She teaches writing in New York City.