A Writer Reading - Danielle Maisano
The first book I remember reading
I have a distinct memory of being quite young and reading a Dr. Seuss book and thinking that I was cheating because I recognized the words and didn’t have to sound them out.
The books which shaped my childhood
Little Women was the first novel I read, and I remember struggling through it but just loving it so much in the end. It’s still one of my favourite books. I also used to read my mom’s Danielle Steele novels at quite a young age. I remember my teachers being both a bit shocked but impressed.
The books I read as a teenager
As a teenager I fell in love with The Lost Generation of writers – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Virginia Woolf. Then on to The Beats – Jack Kerouac and the poetry of Allen Ginsburg. I will always remember the look of horror on my great-uncle’s face on a trip to Borders when he offered to buy me a book and I picked out a copy of Howl. He said, “Really, Dani, Allen Ginsburg? He’s a communist.” I didn’t quite grasp what he meant at the time, but I knew I was definitely on to something. Maybe the revelation that poetry could be dangerous. And he still bought me the book and I still have it on my shelf and it’s still one of my favourite poetry collections.
The first book that made me want to be a writer
There are two books I remember reading around the same time as a teenager – This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I think This Side of Paradise made me entertain the idea and The Sun Also Rises solidified it. It was like nothing I had read before. I feel in love with it. It’s still one of the few books I can read again and again and it never loses anything for me.
The books which changed my view of the world
I was working in a coffee shop in the metro-Detroit area in my very early twenties and a customer walked in and saw me reading Pride and Prejudice. He asked if it was for pleasure or a class and I said pleasure. He then struck up a conversation, he was a former English professor and said the two books everyone should be required to read at least once in their lives were The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I followed his advice and this will probably be my most controversial answer.
I couldn’t be farther away from her politically and I had never heard of Ayn Rand before I read the book and knew nothing about her when I read it, but The Fountainhead had a profound impact on me. I don’t know if I would feel the same if I read it again today, but at that point in my life I found its message of individualism, as an artist, a revelation. Of course, it doesn’t work great for society as a whole, but as an artist it is so important to trust your voice, your vision. For better or for worse, (and much to the annoyance of my partner) when in doubt or asked to compromise, I still sometimes ask myself ‘What would Roark do?’
The Brothers Karamazov was also a revelation to me, in a different sense, but both books were very wonderful and powerful influences.
The book which will always have a place on my shelves
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
The books I tell everyone else to read
I learned the hard way that pushing Ayn Rand and Dostoevsky wasn’t always that successful, so I’ll say Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. In my opinion they are equally as profound but slightly less controversial.
The book I didn’t finish
Ulysses by James Joyce. I tried to read it while I was in the Peace Corps, with very little distraction and alternative reading material, and I still couldn’t do it. But I’ve just had an interesting conversation with another admired author who advised me to perhaps revisit again at another phase in my life.
The book I am reading right now
Right now, I’m reading two books by the same author – Another Now and Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis. I believe he is one of the most important and inspiring thinkers out there on the left and he is also just an amazing writer as well as an economist and that is not an easy combination to come across.
The book I turn to for comfort
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. It’s so sad and sentimental and beautifully written. And I love being transported to the Paris of the 1920s. It’s such a romantic view of life as a writer. And I most definitely am a romantic at heart.