In Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s short story collection, Sabrina & Corina, Latinas of Indigenous descent living in the American West take center stage. It’s a powerful meditation on friendship, mothers and daughters, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands—a must-read for all.
Kali is a masterful storyteller and a fearless writer. Recently, she spoke with Read It Forward about her past job as a bookseller, her favorite independent bookstores (there’s a LIST), and, of course, some books that she’s treasured over the years.
Featured illustration: Lorenzo Gritti
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What’s the book on your bedside table?
I’m finishing up writing my debut novel, a historical narrative set between 1871 and 1933 in Colorado. Because of this, I often read nonfiction that explores this period in the American West. Over the fall, I read Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne and was completely blown away. But when it comes to fiction, my nightstand might as well be made from a wall of books. I’m reading and loving Best American Short Stories 2018, edited by Roxane Gay, for it’s one of the strongest and most diverse BASS I have seen in years. And I recently read the glorious and important There, There by Tommy Orange. When I got to the chapter, Thomas Frank, I found myself in tears over Orange’s prose. I’m so grateful to see characters like my own ancestors in literature.
What’s the one book you tell everyone to read?
Too many to count! From the time I was sixteen until very recently, I was a bookseller at West Side Books in Denver. Part of the job was making sure I could recommend books to a wide array of customers and audiences. Without fail, I always found myself recommending these three books: The Rain God by Arturo Islas, a severely under-appreciated Chicano masterpiece, Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter, and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I love these books for their stylistic achievements and the unique and pervasive fictional realms which they present to readers.
Name three characters from literature or authors (dead or alive) that you’d want in your ideal book club?
Of course, I want Hermione Granger in any book club with me. I would love to discuss literature with any one of Alice Munro’s characters, particularly the librarian Louisa in the story Carried Away. And because she challenged me and my own relationship to books, Hulga “Joy” Hopewell in Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People.
Favorite independent bookstores from around the country?
I have made many pilgrimages to visit bookstores across the country. As a teenager, I made a list of stores that I would love to see someday, and I have been fortunate to cross several of these stores off my bucket list. These are some of my favorites: The Strand, NYC Malvern Books, Austin, TX Maria’s Book Shop, Durango, CO Malaprop’s Bookstore, Asheville, NC Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA Politics and Prose, Washington D.C. Books and Books, Coral Gables, FL King’s Books, Tacoma, WA Prospero’s Bookstore, Kansas City Book Bar, Denver, CO Tattered Cover, Denver, CO Books on Bay, Savanah, GA Borderlands Books, San Francisco, CA West Side Books, Denver, CO And too many more to list here!
What’s the one book that never fails to delight or inspire you?
If ever I’m having a hard time writing, I read stories from Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones. I consider him to be one of the finest short story writers to have ever picked up the pen. In his work, I can see the beauty of perfection balanced with the aches of history. Lost in the City provided me with a model where no models existed before. Jones’ world, his characters, and his absolute devotion to craft showed me that if I worked hard, practiced and learned, I could do my people some justice by writing about us, and writing us well.
What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?
I was an aggressive reader as a child. Long before I wrote stories, I read chapter books and dated encyclopedias. I was sent into the hallway in fourth grade because a teacher caught me reading The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe inside my social studies textbook. But the one book that I read as a young person that I think about nearly daily is The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. When I first encountered that book in early high school, it forever changed me as I realized the unifying and transcendent power of literature.
What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?
I love the word nadir, both visually and sonically, with its rather dark meaning. I can almost see a shooting star sinking in the night sky when I read that word.
If you could only read one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I would forever read literary fiction because it has opened my soul, altered my perception of humanity, and has given my one greatest drives in life – the urge to create with words.