Benjamin Percy is the author of a novel, The Wilding (forthcoming from Graywolf Press), and two books of stories, Refresh, Refresh (Graywolf, 2007) and The Language of Elk (Carnegie Mellon, 2006). His fiction and nonfiction have been read on National Public Radio and have been published by Esquire, Men's Journal, the Paris Review, the Chicago Tribune, Glimmer Train, and many others. His honors include a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Plimpton Prize, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories. The graphic novel of Refresh, Refresh (illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff and published by First, Second Books) is now available for pre-order on Amazon. He teaches in the MFA program in creative writing and environment at Iowa State University.
what are you reading now
Columbine by Dave Cullen. Exhaustively researched, hauntingly executed.
classic you’ve been meaning to read
Le Morte d'Arthur
last book to bring you to tears
I've got a stone-cold heart. And I'm so intensely mathematical in my reading -- as I calculate how an author uses em dashes, how many metaphors are employed on a given page, what page the subplot was introduced and what page it concluded -- that I often become emotionally detached from the storyline. Which isn't why I got into this business. So sometimes I'll put away the pen and make a concerted effort NOT to pay attention to the carpentry, to allow the story to sweep me away. Anyway. The last book (and maybe the only book) that made me cry: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. And that was sixth grade.
book you borrowed and never returned
Dreams of Distant Lives by Lee K. Abbott. This was in grad school and one night Mike Magnuson (author of The Right Man for the Job and Lummox, among others) picked me up in his truck. We were on our way to the bar and he had the book resting on the console. I said I had been meaning to pick up Abbott's work, and he said, "Here. You got to read this shit. You'll love it." I promised to return it once finished and never did. It was just too damn good.
guilty pleasure reading
I don't feel guilty about anything I read. But when other people spot me with a book by Stephen King or Larry McMurtry they'll often make snobbish remarks, like: oh, junk food.
worst book-to-film adaptation
Maybe Simon Birch (the cloying Hallmark-y adaptation of John Irving's brilliant A Prayer for Owen Meany). Or The Lawnmower Man based on the short story (kind of...there's little that connects the two besides the title) by Stephen King.
favorite neglected book by a celebrated writer
Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground. Wonderfully dark and tortured. One of my favorite openers: "I am a sick man...I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased."
book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone
Not to impress but to create conversation and give friends the creeps: Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy.
best american short stories, pen/o. henry prizes, or the pushcart prize anthology
Definitely Pushcart. Bill Henderson is an unsung hero of literature.
collected stories of
if you could subscribe to only one literary journal
The Paris Review or The Missouri Review
best thing you’ve read online recently
"The Gray" by Aaron Gwyn.
most anticipated upcoming release
After so many brilliant (and neglected) novels, Daniel Woodrell is finally hammering out short stories. They've so far appeared in places like Surreal South, New Letters, and Esquire, and holy shit are they good. I don't know if a publisher has signed on yet, but I'll be first in line for this collection. And though it's already been mentioned on this website, I'll give a second shout-out to Josh Weil's forthcoming book of novellas, The New Valley.
recommended reading list:
(Re)Writing the West
- The Virginian by Owen Wister
- True Grit by Charles Portis
- Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides
- Ceremony by Leslie Silko
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
- The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje
- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
- The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
- Close Range by Annie Proulx
- The Hermit's Story by Rick Bass