In these short essays, writers discuss the works that made them want to write.
New Food Economy senior editor Fassler is also the editor of the Atlantic’s author interview series, “By Heart,” where a number of these essays originally appeared. “Part memoir, part literary criticism, part craft class, part open studio,” the pieces describe the impact or “moment of transformative reading” for each of the contributors. Stephen King’s favorite is the opening line of Douglas Fairbairn’s Shoot: “This is what happened.” “For me," he writes, "this has always been the quintessential opening line. It’s flat and clean as an affidavit.” He then goes on to describe his best opening line, from Needful Things. Khaled Hosseini picks a King story, “The Body.” Its “wonderful” opening “moved me very deeply, and it still does.” In just one page, Walter Mosley describes how two sentences toward the end of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye shook his teenage self “from my waking slumber.” For the first time he realized how language can “reach beyond the real into the metaphysical and into metaphor.” Billy Collins describes the “immediate appeal” of Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” In college, he memorized the “gorgeous” poem and since then has always tried to write his poems with an ear to making them “memorizable.” Poems and fiction dominate the collection, but Tom Perrotta picks a play, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which works a “kind of magic.” And Mark Haddon writes about music, Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew,” which “changed the way I saw the world.” Two writers pick the same poet as their inspiration: Emily Dickinson. Emma Donoghue loves her “enigmatic” “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!” James Baldwin, Franz Kafka, and Walt Whitman also get picked twice.
Others lighting the literary dark in this luminous and appealing collection include Jane Smiley (Charles Dickens), Junot Díaz (Toni Morrison), Yiyun Li (Elizabeth Bowen), Neil Gaiman (R.A. Lafferty), and Michael Chabon (Jorge Luis Borges).