Feature

Billie Letts

Oklahoma writer Billie Letts is the best-selling author of the novels Where the Heart Is and The Honk and Holler Opening Soon. Her latest, Shoot the Moon, was published in July.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Anchor, $13). At first glance, this would seem to be merely a writers guide to good writing. But Bird by Bird is also a guide to living our lives the best we can. Each day when I sit down to write, I close my eyes, open this book to a random page—and believe Lamott has written a sentence, a paragraph, maybe an entire chapter just for me.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (Delta, $13). This novel opened up a fascinating and foreign world to me when I was a teenager growing up in Oklahoma. Baldwin’s story—told with such honesty, such dignity, such extraordinary style—is an American masterpiece.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (Noonday, $13). I became a Flannery O’Connor fan after reading two of her short stories, “Good Country People” and “Greenleaf.” This novel, which I read years later in a great class on Southern female writers, has been a major influence on my own writing.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler (Ballantine, $15). In reading this 1982 novel, I learned what I’d long suspected: Dysfunctional families like mine are not the exception. The novel helped me understand and accept the shortcomings of my own parents and the role I played in that melodrama.

Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros (Vintage, $11). There’s a two-page prose piece in this collection that always makes me cry because of the beauty of Cisneros’ prose. Titled “Salvador Late or Early,” it’s a character study of a boy taking care of younger siblings. I have used the piece in my writing classes several times, but—finally—because I could not get through the reading without crying in front of 25 freshmen (who don’t cry), I stopped. Now I keep “Salvador” to myself, like a mother protecting a child.

Waiting for Teddy Williams by Howard Mosher (Houghton Mifflin, $24). This new Howard Mosher novel is the story of a boy’s awakening and growing up, the history of a country in one small town, an inspirational love story, and a baseball fantasy. Now tell me if that’s not a great American novel.

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