Ten Writers on the Books They Are Reading: 2023

by Staff

During 2023, Poets & Writers Magazine’s weekly Ten Questions series interviewed fifty writers about the path to publishing their new books of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. We asked them about their writing habits, the challenges they encountered while completing their manuscripts, surprises they faced along the way, and more. In this week’s installment of Ten Questions we share ten responses writers offered this year to one of our favorite questions: What are you reading right now? If you have a little extra time this holiday season—and we hope you do—may these writers’ reading lists inspire your own: Head to your local bookstore, library, or favorite online retailer to pick up a few books to see you through these last days of the year.

Clockwise from upper left: Maggie Millner, Victor LaValle, Chaitali Sen, Vievee Francis, Emma Cline, Sigrid Nunez, Justin Torres, Myriam Gurba, Jamel Brinkley, and Airea D. Matthews. (Credit: Millner: Sarah Wagner Miller; LaValle: Teddy Wolff; Sen; Paige Wilks; Francis: Matthew Olzmann; Cline: DV DeVincentis; Nunez: Marion Ettlinger Higher; Gurba: Geoff Cordner; Brinkley: Daniele Molajoli;  Matthews: Ryan Collerd)

1.The Biography of X by Catherine Lacey.... It’s wildly ambitious and thrilling on the sentence level.” —Maggie Millner, author of Couplets

2. “I’m reading Mott Street by Ava Chin. Chin traces the history of her family, going back decades, from coast to coast. It’s a personal history and offers insight about American history through the lens of her family.” —Victor LaValle, author of Lone Women

3. “I’m reading the novel Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion by Bushra Rehman, which I knew would be an emotional and lyrical tour-de-force.” —Chaitali Sen, author of A New Race of Men From Heaven

4. “Rereading Susanne K. Langer’s Problems of Art: Ten Philosophical Lectures (well, I’m always picking the book up), my husband’s Constellation Route, and Garrett Hongo’s The Perfect Sound: A Memoir in Stereo. I just started Deena Mohamed’s graphic novel (I love graphic novels), Shubeik Lubeik, and just finished Peter Orner’s Still No Word From You: Notes in the Margin and Kathleen Collins’ Whatever Happened to Interracial Love. I’m in the middle of Mark Whitaker’s Saying It Loud: 1966—the Year Black Power Challenged the Civil Rights Movement. I read several books at once because my attention is constantly shifting and I want to see how one text connects, or doesn’t, to another. I’m moving in and out of my colleagues’ texts; I am determined to read all of their books—and that is a lot of reading. On my desks and tables are perhaps more than twenty five books. Like any writer! Monica Youn’s From From. Clint Smith. Kyle Dargan. And on and on. And I am on pins and needles waiting to read Dee Matthews’s Bread and Circus.” —Vievee Frances, author of The Shared World

5. “Blake Butler’s memoir, Molly, out this fall. It’s bleak and beautiful. Also the writings of painter William N. Copley, Percival Everett’s Dr. No, and Nell Dunn’s Talking to Women.” —Emma Cline, author of Guest

6. “I have exceedingly broad reading interests and some rules around how I read. I tend to decompress after writing a book of poems by reading work outside of poetry for a short while. But we are in the midst of such a rich publishing year, I couldn’t resist! I just read Vievee Francis’s The Shared World and Charif Shanahan’s Trace Evidence—both marvelous. My ancestral research has led to reading, and rereading, historical slave narratives and accounts, including: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by HimselfThe History of Mary PrinceCelia, A Slave Trial; and a volume of collected works titled Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies edited by John W. Blassingame. I usually read something different at night than during the day. Recently I have been reading chapters of How to Be Authentic: Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment by Skye C. Cleary, Todorov’s Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle, Jay Murphy’s Artaud’s Metamorphosis: From Hieroglyphs to Bodies Without Organs, and Susan A. Glenn’s Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism.” —Airea D. Matthews, author of Bread and Circus

7. “I seem to be perpetually rereading The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard. I’m also rereading Angels by Denis Johnson as well as three books for a seminar I’m teaching this fall: King LearThe Age of Innocence, and Song of Solomon. I just picked up Francisco by Alison Mills Newman and To the North by Elizabeth Bowen.” —Jamel Brinkley, author of Witness

8. “I’m reading The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez.” —Myriam Gurba, author of Creep: Accusations and Confessions

9. “I’ve just recently pivoted to read the finalists for the National Book Award—in various genres—whose books I hadn’t yet read. But I am also reading Touching the Art by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Greenland by David Santos Donaldson, and some advance copies of forthcoming books: The Great Divide by Cristina Henríquez and The Long Run: A Creative Inquiry by Stacey D’Erasmo, about artistic stamina, among other things.” —Justin Torres, author of Blackouts

10.The Pole, the new novel by J. M. Coetzee.” —Sigrid Nunez, author of The Vulnerables