My Life in Books: Wendy Erskine

Books at your bedside?

I don’t have a bedside table so these books are stacked on the floor: the middle of a sentence, published by The Common Breath, the third reich by Roberto Bolanoto, Problem by Lee Rourke and small town girl by Donna McLean.

The first book you remember?

I remember my first elementary school teacher, a Joan Baez lookalike, reading to us about Baba Yaga, the witch with the iron teeth. I liked it. The first book I read for myself was about a man who called the fire department because he thought nasturtiums growing on a distant house were flames. I felt quite uncomfortable that people confuse plants with fire.

Your favorite character?

In real life, I would never love a hitman. But I can in a book. I love Glasgow hitman Calum Maclean in Malcolm Mackay The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter. I also like Easy Rawlins, the private detective living in Watts in Walter Mosley’s novels.

Your book of the year?

Video of the day

monument maker by David Keenan. It encompasses so many things: sculpture and permanence and the body and… all kinds of things. I loved Keith Ridgway’s A shock, a superb book. And what will it take for me to leave, by Loranne Vella, translated from Maltese by Kat Storace.

The book you couldn’t finish?

If I don’t like it, I don’t persevere. Come on, life is too short. I’d hate to think of someone dutifully weaving their way through my books to get to the end, all the time wishing they were reading about a Las Vegas heist or something else quick and glitzy. I mean, I don’t mind the difficulty. I’m willing to accept a book as is and try to get into it, even if it’s inscrutable at first. But if we just don’t connect – curtains!

Your comfort Covid read?

When I had Covid in August and was in self-isolation, I re-read five Brian Moore novels. It will always be connected to my Covid experience. A response from limbo is still my favorite.

The book you are giving as a gift?

I worked with Denise Inge, author of tower of bones. This is a tour of medieval European mass graves and while it may sound esoteric and macabre, it is anything but. The book is a powerful meditation on death, but also on life, its beauty and its preciousness. Denise herself was dying when she wrote it.

The writer who shaped you?

Gordon Burn’s sensitivity, whatever the subject, is something I love. I met him once. I said I always use his name as a sort of shorthand for a very particular kind of place or atmosphere – “That’s so Gordon Burn!” He signed all of my books and on one he wrote, “For Wendy, I hope tonight was very Gordon Burn.” I loved it.

My first book, sweet home, was shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Award, given in his memory. I was so high when it happened, let me tell you. This particular award always brings up books that I end up really enjoying. The winner this year, Hanif Abdurraqib A little devil in Americais brilliant.

What book would you like to be remembered for?

Well, I’ve only written two books, so it’s either this one or the other. But I really don’t mind that people don’t remember me. It’s enough for anyone now to read what I do. I am very grateful for that.

Colin L. Johnson