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What Writers Are Reading

Squaw Valley Writer's Workshop guest authors share the books that moved them
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As the Squaw Valley Writer's Workshop kicks off this month with its poetry week, Moonshine Ink decided to ask a few guest authors to share their thoughts on the books that have moved them and the titles on their reading table right now. We narrowed our selection to three well-known Northern California writers who have published books this year— two novelists and a poet — all of whom will be on hand to discuss and sign their latest releases at Squaw.

KAREN JOY FOWLER is a Santa Cruz-based writer who hit the jackpot with her 2004 novel "The Jane Austen Bookclub," which invents the lives of contemporary fictional characters who come to mirror the people on the pages they are reading. The novel was made into a film that received popular acclaim. Her most recent novel, "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves," is narrated by a girl who was raised until the age of 5 with a chimpanzee for a sister. Comic as it sounds, reviewers have said it touches on deeply moral questions.

Moonshine Ink: What book are you reading now?
Karen Joy Fowler: Brian Kimberling's "Snapper." Loving it!

MI: What’s the last truly amazing book you read?
KJF: Ruth Ozeki's "A Tale for the Time Being." I was blown away by this book, which is rich and wise and beautiful, a meditative read and a page turner all at the same time. And a master class in voice.

MI: What book (or books) influenced your early writing career?
KJF: T.H. White's "The Once and Future King," by a country mile. This is the book that taught me there was no need to choose between humor and sorrow, history and future, fantasy and realism, that it was possible to do all of the above and so much more in a single book.

ROBERT HASS is a poet, translator, and essayist who is perhaps best known as a winner of the Pulitzer prize and the U.S. poet laureate under former President Bill Clinton. He is a California native — born in San Francisco, raised in San Rafael, and educated at St. Mary's in Lafayette and Stanford. Poetry credits aside, his recent collection of prose, "What Light Can Do," has been heralded for its beautiful writing and the depth of thought Hass brings to the page. Hass is a professor of English at UC Berkeley and directs the poetry program of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

Moonshine Ink: What book are you reading now?
Robert Hass: “The Selected Letters of Willa Cather,” just published by Knopf. It's an entirely absorbing read and brings her and her world alive in such interesting ways. That stretch of books she wrote from the age of 35 to the age of 45 — "O Pioneers!," "Song of the Lark," "My Antonia," "A Lost  Lady," "The Professor's House," "Death Comes to the Archbishop" — is one of the great runs in American literature, Faulker in the early 30s being the only parallel. And it is exhilarating to get a window into that, and into her, and the particular strengths it took for her to make that march. I'm also reading a very good new book of poems, "The Figure of a Man Being Swallowed by a Fish," by Joshua Weiner (University of Chicago Press), which begins with a very exciting longish poem about Rock Creek in Washington, D.C. And I'm wading into a new book of translations of the great Brazilian poet Adelia Prado (translated by Ellen Watson, Wesleyan University Press).

MI: What’s the last truly amazing book you read?
RH: A novel by James Salter, "As It Is," published this spring by Vintage. It is a cliché, I know, that writers love Salter, but this book, written by a man in his late 70s looking back across the second half of the 20th century, is breathtaking and has in it at least one sequence that is literally amazing, which I won't spoil by describing.

MI: What book (or books) influenced your early writing career?
RH: I've never been able to answer this question because the influences — it felt to me then and feels to me now — were too many. I devoured Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Faulkner, Gogol, Hemingway, and James when I was in school. They opened the doors to what is thrilling in writing. The poets I read early — Donne, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Stevens, Eliot — opened poetry to me. When I began to write, I think there were particular books and writers who taught me things, guided my hand while I traced out the idea of writing a poem — Robert Lowell, "Life Studies," Gary Snyder, "The Back Country," Robert Creeley, "For Love," Theodore Roethke, "Words for the Wind," Denise Levertov, "O Taste and See," Robert Duncan, "The Opening of the Field," James Wright, "Shall We Gather at the River" — come to mind.

LOUIS B. JONES is a Nevada City-based author whose recent novel, "Innocence," is the latest installment in a series of smart, funny novels focused on seemingly detached characters who to transcend their own aloofness to speak to the humanity in us all. The message is one of hope. His third novel, "California's Over," was named as the Los Angeles Times' Best Book of the Year. Jones is the fiction director for the Squaw Valley Writer's Workshop.

Moonshine Ink: What book are you reading now?
Louis B. Jones: Roger Penrose’s “Cycles of Time.” I’m only a chapter into it, and don’t know what to make of it. It’s hard to understand, a physicist’s account of how entropy will have played a creative role — not a merely diluting, dimming role — in the evolution of our cosmos.

MI: What’s the last truly amazing book you read?
One that comes to mind is Simone Weil’s “Gravity and Grace.” It was recommended to me, actually, while hiking up Shirley Canyon in Squaw Valley by the novelist Andrew Winer. Also there’s “The Cloud of Unknowing,” an anonymous pious work of the 14th century. So there are a couple of mystical, philosophical books, I guess. I haven’t been amazed by fiction for a long time. Not since Austen and James and Dickens. There's amazement.

MI: What book or books influenced your early writing career?
Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Bazooka Joe bubblegum comics — complexity of characterization, especially the enigmatic Mort. "Harold and the Purple Crayon."

New books by these and many other authors will be available for signing and purchase at the Squaw Valley Community of Writer's Workshop, which begins on Monday, July 8. For a full list of scheduled public events at Olympic House, visit

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May 10, 2018