I keep my copy of J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace on the shelf above my desk and often pull it down to reread a few pages, jolted and soothed by the tension, honesty, spareness. Don DeLillo’s Falling Man gave me a brilliant crash course in dialogue. Hilary Mantel’s
Wolf Hall made a huge recent impression. In my thirties I was very much under the spell of Graham Greene, another consummate storyteller and spare writer; I knew that if I was to progress as a writer I had to learn how to tell stories.
My tastes are both wide and narrow. I’m devoted to Penelope Fitzgerald, William Maxwell, Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, the Russians, especially Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, and poets like Margaret Avison, Louise Glück, Elizabeth Bishop. Jane Gardam’s Crusoe’s Daughter was a crucial book for me. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding. And on it goes. Certain non-fiction books, like George Whalley’s The Legend of John Hornby, Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow, Ian Frazier’s The Great Plains, and Never in Anger by Jean Briggs have filled me with joy. Beryl Bainbridge’s Birthday Boys, which fuses fiction and non-fiction, is a tiny terrific book. I like short intense books.