We asked MFA alumni publishing books this spring what they’re reading, and what they'd recommend. Here's Elisabeth de Mariaffi on upstairs books, downstairs books, and between-books-books:
"I like to have an upstairs book and a downstairs book: juggling this way prevents me from getting lazy. (If there’s only one book, and it’s upstairs, and I’m terribly comfortable, it’s a little more likely that I’ll just end up scrolling social media for forty-five minutes instead of reading.)
Right now, the downstairs book is Mary Beard’s Women & Power, which I’ve been looking forward to for some time, and is just exactly everything it’s cracked up to be. Directly before beginning W&P, I read Sue Goyette’s Penelope, which reimagines The Odyssey—or an Odyssey, anyway— giving Penelope the main narrative voice. So moving from that, to a classicist addressing the same feminist themes as they act in our time is maybe the smoothest transition between two books I’ve ever made. Upstairs, I’m reading Little Fires Everywhere, by American author Celeste Ng. I’m really intrigued by novels that begin with a catalytic event on page 1—my favourite example of this is probably Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto—and it’s what Little Fires seems to do, so I’m on board.
My Major Reading Accomplishment so far in 2018 was finally closing the book on Anna Karenina, which I’ve been reading on-and-off, as my between-books-book, for close to a year. It’s the first time I’ve maintained a relationship to a story for this long, and I fell into it accidentally, taking breaks to read shorter, more contemporary work when it arrived on my doorstep and I decided I couldn’t wait. Karenina measures some 850 or so pages of careful and detailed character studies, mapped out over what is really a relatively short period of narrative time. Both the novel and this drawn out way of reading it—coming back to the characters, again and again—taught me a lot about patience and pacing, both. I’m half tempted to take up Middlemarch the same way."
Elisabeth's new novel, Hysteria, is published by HarperCollins. It launches in St. John’s at Eastern Edge Gallery on March 7, with additional events planed for Ontario later in the spring. Visit elisabethdemariaffi.com for details.