Thisbe Nissen is the author, most recently, of The Good People of New York (Knopf, $23). Here she chooses her six favorite books.
The Bone People by Keri Hulme (Viking Press, $14). This story of a hermit woman, a mute angelic-horror child, and a fiercely loving and violent man is austerely beautiful, and painful, and redemptive. I’ve read it three times, and shirked everything in my life in order to do nothing but read it, and wept like the world was going to end.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Penguin USA, $13). This is a stunning philosophical inquiry into what it is to be a creative human being, capable of choice, limitlessly instrumental in the creation of one’s own world. I have never been so changed by a book as by this recasting of the story of Cain and Abel.
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Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction by J.D. Salinger (Lb Books, $6). Raise High the Roof Beam on its own blows my mind like no other piece of writing I know. Everything I ever want to learn about how to write is embodied in those 89 pages, such seeming effortlessness achieved through such an absolute mastery of craft.
Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin (Harper Perennial, $12). This delightful story of two couples, Guido and Holly and Vincent and Misty, has the power to make you feel, at least for a little while, that the world is really a worthwhile place. But pretty much, all you have to do is name a character Misty Berkowitz and I’m yours.
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (Harper Perennial, $12). I don’t know what I would do, as a writer and as a person, without this book. Denis Johnson has a mind like no one else’s. And his dialogue is some of the best I’ve ever read. Every time I read a Denis Johnson story, I finish it thinking: That story shouldn’t work. But it totally does. It’s perfect. And I have no idea how he did it.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig (Aladdin Paperbacks, $7). This touching, beautifully drawn book is one I read and reread as a child (and as an adult, I admit this freely): It’s the story of a donkey who turns into a rock by accident. You will never again pick up a red pebble without making a wish, I promise.
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