What’s on Anne Lamott’s Bookshelf?

In each issue of Writer’s Digest, we tend to ask our cover interview subject a seemingly minor question for a sidebar—but in my opinion, it can be one of the most intriguing parts of the whole piece.

What’s on his/her bookshelf?

The responses range from the expected (Sue Grafton, Double Indemnity) to the unexpected (James Patterson, Ulysses) to the simply awesome (Diablo Cody, Ramona Quimby, Age 8).

In our newest issue, on sale Tuesday, we feature an interview with Anne Lamott. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are five picks from her bookshelf (followed by a tidbit from the interview for the short fiction gurus in the room, and a writing prompt).

Reading through this sidebar every month, it’s hard not to fantasize: If it were you, which books would you list? (Feel free to share your picks in the Comments section—after all, you are what you read, right?)

* * *


5 Picks From Anne Lamott’s Bookshelf

“Charles Portis is one of my very, very favorite American literary heroes. He wrote The Dog of the South; he’s famous for True Grit.”

“I love Drop City by T.C. Boyle, and I think he’s one of America’s pure, great, clean, exciting storytellers.”

“Pippi Longstocking was what launched me into my life as a feminist and a woman of laughter.”

“My favorite book that my father wrote is called Anti-California: Report From Our First Parafascist State, about the years when Reagan was governor. That’s a book I really love and have read a number of times.”

“If I had to pick one book by a woman that I love above all others, it would be Middlemarch by George Eliot.”

And Lamott’s thoughts and process on shorter works versus novels:

“[It’s] so much easier, because there’s a foreseeable beginning, middle and end. If I’m working on a story, then I would typically scrawl it all down on a Monday, and on a Tuesday, I’d start cleaning it up … and the third day I would get very firm and adult-like and disciplined, and try to make myself edit it all much more tightly, and be much more self-indulgent. By the fourth day I become desperate to show it to people, and that’s always alarming for me, because I’m really not ready then. … And on Friday, I’m a whole different person, and I’m cutting stuff out. With a novel, there’s no easy way to separate out the assignment—it’s like trying to move a hockey puck in super slow-mo down the ice.”

* * *


WRITING PROMPT: Recyclables
Feel

free to take the following prompt home or post your
response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your story to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

You buy a used car. On the way home, you make a stop and are forced into buying something else you never even knew was sold used.

How Writers Can Succeed in the Future of Digital Publishing?
?Join
WD publisher Jane Friedman live tomorrow to get the lowdown on
where the industry is headed in a time of digital revolution—and how to
succeed and adapt no matter what the future holds.?
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4 thoughts on “What’s on Anne Lamott’s Bookshelf?

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  2. Zac

    Martha: I feel your pain. I tried to write on my WIP this week, and was completely stalled out. Luckily (I think?), of all places, a visit to the dentist yesterday afternoon softened the block. (I retreated into idea wonderland to avoid the cold realities of the drill.)

    I want to raid both of your bookshelves, too — thanks for sharing your picks.

    Perhaps on mine:
    London Fields, Amis
    Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut
    Crow, Hughes
    The Plague, Camus
    The Devil in the White City, Larson
    Is Life Like This(my new paper friend), Dufresne

  3. Martha W

    Zac, I am so bummed. For the first time, I’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    Books on my bookshelf:
    Longfellow’s Complete Poetic Works
    Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows
    Both books by Dwight Swain
    Story Structure-Demystified by Larry Brooks
    Angel’s Fall by Nora Roberts

  4. Mark James

    My bookshelf. Let’s see, if I listed my top ten (in no particular order)

    Children’s Treasury: Fairy Tales, Nursery Rhymes & Nonsense Verse
    A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (Philip Sexton)
    The Writer’s Idea Book (Jack Heffron)
    Hero With a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell)
    The Writer’s Journey (Chris Vogel)
    A Writer’s Book of Days (Judy Reeves)
    Techniques of the Selling Writer (Dwight Swain)
    Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie)
    Chekhov (anything I can lay my hands on)
    Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories

    Everybody gets used stuff these days. With the volcano clouds floating around the world, and imports taking forever, everything’s Made In America, Used in America, and Recycled In America.

    My PT Cruiser was only ten years old. The purple streak going down the yellow sides didn’t bother me. On my way home, I stopped at Stone Age Char Pit. I wanted to celebrate with a Fred Flintstone Special. I figured the purple Dino fries that came with it would be like a toast to my car.

    I wasn’t sitting on a fake stone bench but five minutes when a kid slid into the booth with me.

    “How’s your taxes?” she said.

    I bit into my burger. “You taking a survey?”

    “Maybe.”

    When I heard footsteps behind me, I didn’t move. “Most people who sneak up on me like that, they end up hurt,” I said quietly.

    He came around and sat next to the kid. “Didn’t want to stop you two getting to know each other,” he said.

    “How come you got a six year old going around asking grown men about their taxes?”

    “I’m seven,” she said. You’d have thought I said she had two noses.

    I rolled my eyes over her little seven year old body. “How many words do you know?”

    “That’s a dumb question,” she said.

    I ate a couple fries. “Maybe. But you can’t talk anymore till you know the answer.”

    “Your taxes okay?” the man said.

    “I’m Collin. Who are you?”

    “He’s my agent,” she said.

    I looked down at her. “Did you figure out how many yet?”

    She shook her head.

    “Then pretend your mouth’s on pause,” I said.

    “She’s cute isn’t she?” He ran his hand over her brown hair. The sight of him touching her made my stomach turn.

    She sat real still, but it seemed like she was doing her best to squirm without moving.

    I pushed my fries toward her. “Hungry?”

    “Yeah.” She pushed the plate back at me. “But I don’t eat purple food.”

    “Is that right?” I said.

    His hand twitched and I thought I saw her flinch. “Nan’s been the joy of my life,” he said.

    “For how long?”

    “If you make me your little sister, your taxes get better,” Nan said. “That’s what he did. Used Little Sisters are half price tonight.”

    I’d heard about this. The new laws were making people do desperate things, like rent kids for the tax season, then turn them loose when the check came in the mail. I should have called the cops. I almost pulled out my cell phone. But then, she ate a couple purple fries.

    #

    I don’t know. Maybe it was the fries, or maybe it was the way she looked at me, like she couldn’t stand thinking she’d have to leave with him. I gave him all the cash I had left. He gave me her Tax ID number.

    Outside she looked my car over and said, “It’s pretty okay, for used.”

    On the way home, we stopped at a place that made yellow fries and Nan ate two orders and drank a milkshake, then laid her head against my shoulder and closed her eyes.

    There wasn’t anywhere for her to sleep at home, and I guessed I’d be on the couch till I worked out something else, but for a while yet, I’d have a tax deduction worth roughly two millions words, and growing.

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