Former librarian and author Jill Coupe shared with Independent Publisher the books she loves revisiting every now and again. In honor of National Library Week, we wanted to share a few of her captivating book picks.
Tumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories by Amy Hempel
For a time, while volunteering at an adult literacy program, I tutored a woman who’d dropped out of school after sixth grade. Having recently retired from her janitorial job, she’d opted to use some of her free time to improve her reading skills. Ruby and I had been meeting once a week for nearly a year when I decided to share my love of fiction with her. I brought Tumble Home to our next session, in part because the first story in this collection is only two pages long. Ruby read “Weekend” out loud, flawlessly. Then she turned the page. For at least an hour, long past the time for our session to be over, she read Amy Hempel’s stories to me. At home that night, I re-read the rest of the stories, admiring them in a completely new way.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Like Amy Hempel’s stories, this novella compels the reader to keep going. With the usual fictional arc, the action rises toward a climax and then tapers off. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the tension is at a high point from the beginning and doesn’t subside. We learn in the opening sentence that Santiago Nasar is going to die. While there are many excellent books about how to write fiction (a few of which I’ve read twice), sometimes observing how it’s done well can be equally instructive.
Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark
Whenever I’m asked who my favorite author is, I reply, “Muriel Spark.” Often I’m greeted by a blank look, so I add, “You know, she wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was made into a movie starring Maggie Smith.” If the blank look is still there, I give up. I don’t go on to say that I’ve read all of Muriel Spark’s novels at least once (which I have). I don’t offer the advice that Loitering with Intent–in addition to being a wonderfully wry, ironic novel about the sometimes slippery interplay between life and art–offers excellent advice about how to write a novel. Pay close attention to everyone you meet, Ms. Spark is saying. Register every detail. Then feel free to use whatever you can.
You can find the rest of her book picks here.