Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences, the 2009 Julia Peterkin Award, and the 2009-2010 Emerging Writer Lectureship at Gettysburg College. Her fiction has or will soon appear in One Story, Boston Review, Epoch, American Short Fiction, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, Best New American Voices 2010, and The Pushcart Prize XXIV: Best of the Small Presses. The winner of the Dzanc Prize, Laura’s first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, will be published by Dzanc Books in October.
what are you reading now
I’m reading Fiona Maazel’s Last Last Chance, which is a very interesting and exciting novel.
classic you’ve been meaning to read
I read War and Peace in college, but I wasn’t paying much attention, so I suppose that might be something to revisit. One classic I’ve been dying to read is Middlemarch. And this next book might not be a classic in the canonical sense, but so many people—even the kind of people who never recommended anything!—have been informing me that I will be living an impoverished life until I read Stoner by John Williams, so that’s very high on my list.
last book to bring you to tears
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s a beautiful and brilliant novel and I wept like a baby while reading the final scene. It just wrecked me, in the best sort of way.
book you borrowed and never returned
Oh dear god, there have been so many, I’m afraid. I’m pretty sure my copy of Project X—a fantastic novel by Jim Shepard—isn’t mine.
guilty pleasure reading
Every Wednesday afternoon on Gawker they post something called “Midweek Madness,” a weekly distillation of whatever the tabloids have to say about various celebs. I read it and then feel guilty for feeding some horrible cultural beast that is probably sucking away all our brainpower, just like in those Hulu commercials.
worst book-to-film adaptation
I’m not sure this is the very worst, but I admired Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted and thought the movie went off the rails, especially toward the end. Too melodramatic and Hollywood-ized.
most scribble-ridden book in your collection
Hard call! Margin notes, crinkled pages, and battered covers are all signs of a well-loved book, in my opinion. I’ve never quite understood readers who preserve their books like museum artifacts. Anyway, To The Lighthouse is probably one of my most annotated.
book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone
I didn’t hang out with very many people who read until I went to graduate school, so I can’t think of anything to cop to at the moment. But if I can move into the realm of the hypothetical, a really long book—2666? Infinite Jest? Something by Proust?—seems like a good coffee table plant. If nothing else, it would demonstrate that you’re capable of committing to something for a sustained period of time.
best american short stories, pen/o. henry prizes, or the pushcart prize anthology
I typically get all those anthologies and enjoy reading through them, but I’m especially partial to Best American Short Stories 2006, edited by Ann Patchett, which is just a fantastically strong collection and contains two stories that are very close to my heart: "Once the Shore" by Paul Yoon and "Refresh, Refresh" by Benjamin Percy.
collected stories of
if you could subscribe to only one literary journal
best thing you’ve read online recently
I’m an editor at Memorious and I’m wild about a story we published by Blake Butler called “Landlord,” which has just been re-printed in Best of the Web 2009. I also love James Scott’s “What Happens When You’re Not There,” recently published in Flatmancrooked.
most anticipated upcoming release
I’m super excited about a novella collection titled The New Valley by Josh Weil. The book will be published in early June and it is going to absolutely rock.
recommended reading list:
Debut Story Collections
- Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson
- The Language of Elk by Benjamin Percy
- Once the Shore by Paul Yoon
- Minor Robberies by Deb Olin Unferth
- Big World by Mary Miller
- In the Devil’s Territory by Kyle Minor
- Animal Crackers by Hannah Tinti
- Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel
- Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
- Famous Fathers and Other Stories by Pia Z. Ehrhardt
- The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
- The Point by Charles D'Ambrosio
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- Yellow by Don Lee
- Drown by Junot Díaz
I could go on and on. I’m surely omitting some debut story collections that I love, but for now, the ones mentioned above are well worth seeking out.