Shelf Life

Shelf Life

by Lily Tuck

We asked the award-winning author of the novel The Double Life of Liliane to show us a section of her bookshelf. Here, she talks about a few rare favorites from her collection.

The Double Life of Liliane


I arrange my books according to the authors I like best. Here I have cheated a bit and selected favorites that I feel have been neglected. Take Murphy's Romance by Max Schott which begins "There was a time when I even thought I might try to romance her myself, since everyone else did. But she divined that thought (we were riding horses and my knee sneaked over and rubbed against hers) and she turned me down. Anyhow, I ended up marrying her aunt." Max Schott has written four short books about the human heart, he taught creative writing at UC Santa Barbara's College of Creative Writing and once a year taught The Canterbury Tales which he read out loud in perfect Middle English. He is a marvelous writer. So is C. S. Godshalk. I've looked her up a number of times and can never find out much about her and like Schott she has not written much. Set in Borneo, Kalimantaan is an astonishing historical novel written in fierce poetic language. I am always surprised at how few people have heard of it or read it. As for Our Horses in Egypt by Rosalind Belben (no one has heard of her either!) it is written in an inimitable quirky and eccentric English style and recounts the search by Griselda Romney accompanied by her daughter and the daughter's nanny for Philomena, her horse, who was requisitioned by the army at the start of World War I -- along with 22,000 other horses -- and sent to Egypt but as yet has not returned. Some of the novel is told from the horse's point of view. I have always been fascinated by the East German writer Christa Wolf and I have read all of her books (one day I will learn German and write about her!) In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien is one of the most disturbing and haunting books I have ever read. I have read it three times. I've also read James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime three times, for the descriptions of the small gray French towns in winter and for the sex. Michael Arlen's Exiles about his family and his growing up is one of the most elegant and devastating books I have read  -- like Tender is the Night. Here about his father: "And all the while my father wrote these books, wrote at these books in that lovely white room in the morning. And Lord knows what was really going through his mind. My mother told me many years later that one spring afternoon in 1936, I think it was, he came down after lunch, and said that he was leaving, that he couldn't stand things any more, and needed to be by himself, and left, and went away, took the train up towards Paris, then to Cherbourg, got aboard the Aquitania bound for New York  -- but then got off again at Southampton and came back home again. 'He never told me what had been on his mind,' she said.  'I asked him later,' she said, 'but he kept saying, Oh it was nothing.'"




Lily Tuck is the author of five novels, including Siam, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist; The News from Paraguay, winner of the 2004 National Book Award; and I Married You for HappinessBook of the Year for the Chicago TribuneBoston GlobePublishers Weeklyand the National Post; two collections of stories; and a biography. Her work has been translated in over a dozen languages and has appeared in The Best American Essays and The O. Henry Prize Stories