Right now (in the state of semi-isolation we’re all in), I tend to turn to writers who seem to view the world at a distance, who describe precisely without sentimentality, and who don’t lie, meaning who don’t indulge in emotional histrionics. Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, which I’ve never read even though I reread Mrs. Dalloway approximately once a year. Rereading Yiyun Li’s short stories, which have such clarity and such mistrust of melodrama.
I think of Li as my friend, though I’ve never met her (I saw her interviewed once and babbled as she signed a book for me—she was very gracious), the way books can be companions, touchstones for your own experience or perception or even your opinions about domestic life, political life. I’ve just started Souvankham Thammavongsa’s How To Pronounce Knife.
“…books can be companions, touchstones for your own experience or perception or even your opinions about domestic life, political life.”
She’s the kind of writer who conceals how technically brilliant she is. Her economy is astonishing—you feel yourself to be in the presence of someone who will not waste a second of your time, who will tell you exactly what you need to know, and who will only tell the truth.
All that said, I’m also on the hunt for the great comic novel, and open to suggestions. Something really silly. I should probably go for something like War and Peace or finally tackling Proust, but with three kids home from school, reading still mostly happens in the hour before turning out the light.
Kate Cayley has published a collection of short stories and two collections of poetry. Her second collection of short stories is forthcoming from Biblioasis.