Seattle native Kim Fay’s debut novel The Map of Lost Memories has been wowing the critics: Publisher’s Weekly called it “…intricate page-turner that will keep readers breathless and guessing,” while Booklist raved “Every word of this evocative literary expedition feels deliberately chosen, each phrase full of meaning.” Fay shared with us some of her favorite titles.
It’s not unusual for me to have five or six books on my nightstand at the same time, but these days my reading load is especially voluminous and scattered. I’m deep into research for my new novel, and I’m determined to read as many novels as I possibly can that debuted in the same season as mine this year—this includes Courtney Miller Santo’s The Roots of the Olive Tree, which I’ve almost finished and can’t wait to recommend to friends.
I could share my all-time favorite books (I’m still trying to figure out how Mark Helprin wrote such a gorgeous love scene in Winter’s Tale when the two characters were in different rooms), but instead I’d like to write about my literary education. I was a great reader from the day I could hold a book, but my tastes were fairly commercial while I was growing up. I’m all for commercial fiction (I still weep when I read Love Story), but literary fiction holds a special place in my heart, perhaps because I came to it in such a special place, after college when I began working at the Elliott Bay Book Company.
In this store, my horizons widened, beginning with a wealth of female authors my then-boyfriend called “the ladies.” “How are the ladies today?” he would ask me, and I knew he was talking about Margaret Drabble and Muriel Spark and the handful of other women writers I was falling in love with.
Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. This opening line of Anita Brookner’s The Debut stunned me. I was twenty-two, and as far as I was concerned, literature was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. But Brookner’s Ruth Weiss had learned from experience that while fiction can reveal great truths, it does not always tell the truth: in real life, Cinderella rarely goes to the ball.
Discovering Penelope Lively’s Booker-winning Moon Tiger was like being catapulted into an entirely new room in my own mind. On the surface it is the story of Claudia Hampton looking back on her life. But as the novel travels from a WWII love affair to a modern-day nursing home, touching on all points in between, Lively flawlessly peels back layers of memory and perspective to reveal the depth of an individual’s human experience.
The sole Yankee in this British ladies club, Laurie Colwin was more than just a writer I admired. She was my best friend, although she did not know it. I have never known a more appealing novel than Happy All the Time—a book that presents characters who enjoy their lives with wit, intelligence, charm, and not an ounce of smarminess. I re-read this book every January, I love giving it as a wedding gift, and I even convinced my dad and husband to read it … they both loved it! I appreciate books that are tough on me, that force me to think in ways I’m not always comfortable with, but at the same time, there are days when it’s nice to know I can retreat with a cup of tea and a few hours of unspoiled literary happiness.