Anna David is the author of the novels Party Girl and Bought, and the editor of the anthology Reality Matters. Falling for Me, her memoir about following the advice in Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl, releases today. Here’s what she had to say about the books that got to her as a reader.
When We Fell In Love – Anna David
I learned to love reading from my mom, an English professor who is literally a walking Jeopardy’s database of every piece of literature that’s ever been published (though she’s much better on the books by dead people than with the contemporary stuff). For much of my childhood, she and I would sit out in the sun—these having been the days when people were still ignorant about sun damage and melanoma and actually did things like that—with each of our heads buried in our books.
I didn’t like the books I could tell my mom wanted me to like—Wind In The Willows or Through The Looking-Glass or Black Beauty—though I could get reasonably excited about James and The Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But the page-turners for me, early on, were books by writers like Judy Blume and Paula Danziger and S.E. Hinton (I still remember the shock and horror I felt when I found out she was a girl). I was especially obsessed with Paula Danziger, who wrote the Young Adult novels The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and There’s a Bat in Bunk Five. To me, Danziger was the funnier, less crass version of Judy Blume.
Because that’s what mattered to me then and now: the funny. When I graduated to adult books, after a post-Danziger foray that I probably shouldn’t mention into Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins land, my first obsession was Catcher in the Rye. Not terribly original but I didn’t know that at the time and even if I had, I couldn’t have gotten over the language Salinger had created. I was a sophomore in college, majoring in Literary Writing, and suddenly all my short stories began to feature angst-ridden but oddly adorable, wry male teenagers and my voice was consistently described as “Salinger-esque.”
For years, I’d tell people how obsessed I was with Catcher and they’d always recommend books that were “just like it”—usually A Separate Peace, which bored me silly. It was only when I read A Clockwork Orange and discovered the language that Anthony Burgess had crafted that I actually felt I’d found a book that appealed to me in the same way that Catcher in the Rye did.
There was a long time between Anthony Burgess and the next writer who excited me in the same way, who made me want to cry out on each page, How on earth do you do this so well? What muscle is that you’re using and where did you get it? That writer was Martin Amis and for the past five years or so, I’ve read and re-read his trifecta—Money, London Fields and The Information—repeatedly.
I’m not sure I understand what the hell happens in London Fields, even after the five or so readings of it, but I smile and gurgle and laugh and marvel every time. I guess Amis is able, in those three books, to combine the two things that can excite me the most about books: he creates a uniquely thrilling language that only works for that particular work and he does it hilariously. Even the character names in Money are better than most people’s jokes: Spunk Davis, Lorne Guyland, Des Blackadder, Caduta Massi. What muscle is he using and can we mortals develop it, too?
My mom doesn’t read Martin Amis, seeing as he’s alive and was never addicted to opium nor had relatives who were (Branwell Bronte, the brother to all those sisters, was apparently big into that). Nevertheless, whenever I go home to visit, I trot out my Amis and read next to her while she hunkers down with a much dog-eared copy of Wuthering Heights—just like old times.