Susan Choi: ‘I've failed to finish Ulysses on many occasions - this time I predict success'

The author on the book that changed her mind about Philip Roth, and a mind-blowing masterpiece that not enough people have heard of

The book I am currently reading
James Joyce’s Ulysses. A little at a time. This time I’m definitely going to finish it (see below).

The book that changed my life
Can I just say that there is no one book in any of these categories for me? For “the book” please read “a book”. Here I’ll say Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. It made me want to write. I was six.

The book I wish I’d written
Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation. It made me marvel all over again about what books can do.

The book that most influenced my writing
This is changing all the time. For a long while, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando was always in my thoughts.

The book I think is most underrated
Marianne Wiggins’s John Dollar is a masterpiece that isn’t just underrated, no one has ever heard of it, which is terrible! I hope people order it immediately. Mind-blowing.

The book that changed my mind
I avoided Philip Roth all through college due to bias based on the tales of his bad behaviour, and then I finally read Goodbye, Columbus and instantly ran to read everything else.

The last book that made me cry
Ha! Good segue. I didn’t plan this answer to go so well with the previous one but the last book I remember making me really seriously cry, like with snot streaming down my face, was Roth’s Everyman.

The last book that made me laugh
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky. Because though the overall subject matter is devastating, her observation of human nature is unerring.

The book I couldn’t finish
I have failed to finish Ulysses on many occasions, because each time I was determined to read it straight through and nothing else. Now I’ve adopted the “a little a week” method. I predict success.

The book I’m most ashamed not to have read
I’m not sure if I’m most ashamed not to have finished Ulysses before this, but I am very ashamed.

My earliest reading memory
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I asked my mother if she could let me just read it to myself. She was going too slowly.

The book I give as a gift
There is no one book, but I like to give poetry as a gift, because a friend of mine does this and I learned about so many amazing poets this way. Rather than trying to guess what sort of full length work of prose someone will like, which is high stakes and induces guilt in the recipient if they don’t in fact like what you gave them, you can offer them an attractive stack of slim volumes of poems they probably wouldn’t have ever picked up on their own, and they can dip in as they wish. Recently I’ve given volumes of poetry by Ada Limón, Laura Kasischke, Natalie Diaz … there are so many great poets.

• Trust Exercise by Susan Choi is published by Serpent’s Tail

Susan Choi

The GuardianTramp

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