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MSM'S Favourite Writers’ Favourite Books

What books have been so monumental that they have shaped the worlds of our favourite modern writers? A mixture of the unknown and the on-most-bookshelves, experimental and graphic, light-hearted and traumatic: we look at the highly recommended books to add to your collection.

Colson Whitehead

For Whitehead, the author of The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s graphic novel Bitch Planet is the “woman-in-prison epic you didn’t realise was missing from your life”. Robert Christgau’s Going into the City inspired Whitehead to write criticism at the start of his career, and he cites Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire as the “real deal'' if you want to explore a series about the music scene in 70s New York.

Sally Rooney

The writer of epoch-defining novels Normal People and Conversations with Friendspinpoints Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot as two of her favourite novels. It was JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey that had the greatest influence on her writing however, and Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom that altered “the trajectory of her thinking”.

Ottessa Moshfegh

Winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for her warped and horror-soaked debut novel Eileen and the author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a wickedly funny and dark novel on grief and self-isolation, lists Amie Barrodale’s You are Having a Good Time, Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star and Daniel Saldana Paris’ Among Strange Victims as some of her favourite books.

Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi, the writer of both Homegoing and Transcendent Kingdom, has praised Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, Edward P. Jones Lost in the City and Toni Morrison Song of Solomon for their influence on her writing.

Rachel Kushner

For the author of The Mars Room, Marguerite Duras’ Practicalities discomfits the dictates of genre to “tell life” in a completely unique way. Jean-Luc Nancy’s God, Justice, Love, Beauty: Four Dialogues is the book Kushner returns to the most, and Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov both “shattered” and “rebuilt” her in its narrative both of and on innocence.

Maggie Nelson

The genre-defying writer of Bluets and The Argonauts has praised Saidiya V. Hartman’s Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America as a critical text to disentangle the ways “unfreedom masquerades as freedom”. Other books Nelson recommends are Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, and James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.

Caleb Azumah Nelson

The South-East London photographer and winner of the Costa First Novel Award for Open Water discusses the impact of Teju Cole’s Open City, Jesse McCarthy’s The Fugitives, and Toni Morrison’s Jazz on his incendiary prose style.

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