On your nightstand now: Nabokov's Speak, Memory, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. These are all books I'm teaching right now in my memoir class at New York University, so I'm joyfully re-reading them. And Yu Hua's new novel, Brothers, is also next to the bed, first on my end-of-the-semester list.
Favorite book when you were a child: Charlotte's Web. My mom read that to me hundreds of times. I have a visceral memory of hearing it for what must have been the 200th time when I was a little kid on an overnight train across China. And although I couldn't have articulated this then, that book was America for me, was home--animals, ice cubes, fireworks, fairs. It was so familiar and comforting that it encompassed my entire country and culture. All the colors and words and feelings I knew best.
Your top five authors: Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov and Annie Proulx.
Book you've faked reading: Oooh. I pretended to have read Moby Dick for 10 years until I finally read it (which took me approximately another 10 years).
Book you are an evangelist for: Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. Let me propagandize/count the ways. It is the most original book I've read. It boils over with brilliance and slays me each time I re-read it, which I do at least twice a year since I include it on every syllabus I teach, no matter what the genre, semester, student population or school. Autobiography of Red is a shimmering everything--history, love story, poem, novel, essay, biography, autobiography--it's academic, romantic, political, wildly imaginative and heart shattering. My students weep, shout, sit stunned and silent, fight, analyze, memorize, imitate and then write their best work either about or because of it--consistently.
Book you've bought for the cover: Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware. Have you seen that cover? It has as much work in it as most books manage in their 300 pages . . . not to mention that the story is epic, graphic and staggering.
Book that changed your life: Angle of Repose. Wallace Stegner's writing let me understand time.
Favorite line from a book: Probably Nabokov's "Fill up the page, Printer." (From Lolita.)
Book you most want to read again for the first time: The Brothers Karamazov. The first time I read that, I sat clutching it for hundreds of pages at a time until my eyes spiraled. I took irritating breaks to eat and sleep briefly before racing back in. Fun!