Amina Cain recommends 6 books that engage with other art forms
The author recommends works by Tove Jansson, Janice Lee, and more
Amina Cain is an essayist and the author of the story collection Creature. Her first novel, Indelicacy — a supernatural tale about a cleaning woman with literary ambitions — inspired her to recommend these books that engage with other art forms.
The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal (2009).
In the dead of winter in a Swedish village, a young woman attempts to take over the house of Anna Aemelin, an elderly children's book illustrator. The depiction of Anna's relationship to drawing is lovely, and the storytelling is incredibly visual, particularly in its descriptions of the snowy landscape.
Being Here Is Everything by Marie Darrieussecq, translated by Penny Hueston (2017).
The life of German expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker is the subject of this deeply absorbing book. While reading, I was aware of one artist meeting another, as Darrieussecq is no ordinary biographer, but a kindred spirit to Modersohn-Becker.
Calamities by Renee Gladman (2016).
Gladman is a writer and an artist, and this work addresses both endeavors. In her hands, the sentence has much in common with the line, so that writing and drawing feel miraculously one and the same. The reading experience is like none I've had before; it helped me understand what drawing might feel like.
A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolaño (2002).
Though Bolaño's longer novels get more attention, this book is my favorite. After the parents of the narrator die in a car crash when she is just 15, her life changes in peculiar ways. The novel is full of striking, cinematic imagery, and it inspired Il Futuro, an incredible 2013 film adaptation by the Chilean filmmaker Alicia Scherson.
Damnation by Janice Lee (2013).
An intensely atmospheric book, Damnation was inspired by the films of Béla Tarr and the novels and screenplays of László Krasznahorkai. I was taken over by it completely, as Lee must have been taken over when she wrote it. Her ekphrasis has much to teach us about where film and writing might meet.
Fort Not by Emily Skillings (2017).
A mesmerizing book that takes up, among other things, the paintings of Bruegel and Jane Freilicher. Through a poem Skillings wrote that was commissioned for the New York City Ballet, I discovered that she trained in dance — which explains a lot, as her poems often feel as though they are taking place on a stage or unfolding in movements.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, try the magazine for a month here.