This month’s reflection is from Yumna Kaasab, whose collection of short stories The House of Youssef (Giramondo Publishing) is our September pick.
What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading four books. The first is the YA novel Witch by Christopher Pike. I read a lot of Christopher Pike in my high school years and every few years I will read ten or twenty in a row. Most of his books are 200 pages long and I can read a book a night when I am on a roll. He wrote Master of Murder, a thriller about a teenager who is a bestselling novelist. It was the book that made me want to write. It is fair to say that it was a YA book that had the biggest impact on my life. I try to remember that when people tell me whatever it is they’re reading or watching. The rule is: do not judge. You never know what will end up changing a person’s life.
On the non-fiction front, I have three books on the go. The first is The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates (1973-1982). I have been reading this slowly since May. I am in no hurry to finish. I read a page or two at a time. It makes me happy to read about how writers approaching their writing.
The last two books are poetry and I dip into them from time to time. They are The Lost Arabs by Omar Sakr and Inside My Mother by Ali Cobby Eckermann. I believe poetry keeps the language alive. I have a solid collection of poetry and I guard them like a dragon guards her treasure.
Do not judge what people are reading or watching… You never know what will end up changing a person’s life.
Borrowed or bought?
I bought The Journals of Joyce Carol Oates (1973-1982) at Boo Books in Armidale, an incredible second-hand bookstore that is the perfect place to spend an hour or two.
I picked up Inside My Mother from my publisher on my last visit. I have been wanting to read these poems for a while.
I bought The Lost Arabs at Better Read than Dead in Newtown in July.
As for Witch, I bought it in the late 90s. A friend’s boyfriend lent it to me. After I read it, I went out and bought my own copy second-hand from a bookstore that used to be in Wentworthville.
What kind of reader are you?
Voracious and obsessive are two words that come to mind. I mainly read fiction but I find myself rereading the same non-fiction books again and again. I read non-fiction slowly, a few pages a day. As for fiction, I will read by writer. I will go through stages. I had an Albert Camus stage. Then there was Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Jean Rhys, James Baldwin, Don Delillo and Jorge Luis Borges. If I love a particular writer, I’ll always leave one book unread, in case of a rainy day or a zombie apocalypse. Before implementing this rule, I foolishly read everything by Bret Easton Ellis, Cheryl Strayed and Sylvia Plath.
Never mind. One can always reread.
If I love a particular writer, I’ll always leave one book unread, in case of a rainy day or a zombie apocalypse.
What does your book collection look like?
My collection is currently divided between two locations: Sydney and a regional place.
I organise by writer and by genre. My science-fiction books live together, my children’s books have their own shelf, Christopher Pike has a full-blown shrine. All of Jean Rhys lives comfortably with Jeanette Winterson, Janet Frame, Angela Carter and Joan Didion (who is currently travelling away from my main library in Sydney). All the poets are in one spot and there is a section devoted to mythology and fairytales.
I usually have a good idea where a book is, but my collection’s divided nature means I have to think carefully about what books I exchange each time I come to Sydney.
What’s one book you found critical to the writing of your own book?
It would have to be Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I return to this book every year. I have read it at least ten times and I always want to know how he achieves its effect of absolute numbness and apathy of people drifting in their world. In terms of technique, Bret Easton Ellis is one of my three favourite writers. The other two are Joan Didion and Don DeLillo. They are writers who are precise with their words. They are a massive influence on my shorter stories, especially the ‘Motherland’ and ‘The House of Youssef’ sequences. There are the essential details and then a lot of blanks.
If you had to pick one book to live in for the rest of your life, which would it be?
My choice would be Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. This is my desert island book. I carry this book on my travels. Estés takes fairy tales and interprets them within a Jungian psychology framework. I love the symbols in fairy tales and myths, and this book delves into the symbols of very old stories.
My story ‘Burning the Flag’ is about symbols. A flag is a symbol, a headscarf is another one. A person needs symbols to help navigate life and the world. Books have provided me with many of the symbols and signposts along the way.