Karen Russell has recommended reading for you, Joe Biden.
Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Sleep Donation, Karen Russell.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Karen Russell: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
BM: Favorite re-read?
KR: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
KR: I’m not sure I can pin down a single book, although Macondo’s insomnia plague imprinted deeply upon me. I also think it shares dream DNA with the twilight worlds of Stephen King, Kelly Link, George Saunders, Octavia Butler. Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.
And I read this more recently, but I think Sleep Donation would have a lot to talk about with Shoshanna Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
KR: Two brilliant novels that recently knocked me flat were Christopher Beha’s The Index of Self-Destructive Acts and Vanessa Veselka’s The Great Offshore Grounds.
BM: Last book you read?
KR: Anodyne by Khadijah Queen—it’s amazing.
BM: A book that made you cry?
KR: Riding with the Ghost by Justin Taylor.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
KR: I have to stan for my brother Kent Russell’s outrageously entertaining, heartbreaking, and frighteningly timely Florida book, In the Land of Good Living: A Journey to the Heart of Florida. Joe Biden’s team would be wise to study it in advance of the election.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
KR: I laughed so hard reading Kent’s book I developed a tiny six-pack. Elwin Cotman’s Dance on Saturday, in addition to being wildly inventive, is also so goddamn funny.
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
KR: Jaquira Diaz’s Ordinary Girls.
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
KR: Lynda Barry’s Cruddy.
BM: Classic book you hate?
KR: Atlas Shrugged.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
KR: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigirid Undset.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
KR: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
KR: Not enough people have heard of Karen Shepard’s extraordinary story collection, Kiss Me Someone.
BM: Favorite book of the 21st century?
KR: This is an impossible question!
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
KR: I have two—One Hundred Years of Solitude and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
KR: Likes by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman, both jaw-droppingly great.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
KR: Rivka Galchen’s Rat Rule 79, a story for middle grade readers but also for their parents, and every adult child aging in time.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
KR: I hope somebody is turning Paul Tremblay’s terrifying Growing Things into an anthology series.
Karen Russell won the 2012 and the 2018 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is also the author of the novella, Sleep Donation, the story collections, Orange World and St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. She has received a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship, the “5 under 35” prize from the National Book Foundation, the NYPL Young Lions Award, the Bard Fiction Prize, and is a former fellow of the Cullman Center and the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and children.
Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation is out now from Vintage