Perhaps the books that have really changed my life are children’s books, mostly because I read them at a more impressionable age. The one that comes to mind is Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins. It’s based upon the true story of a Kodiak girl accidentally left behind on an island by her tribe. Because she’s alone, she must learn every role in the tribe: hunter, gather, warrior, healer. And what she realizes is that the only thing that was keeping her from these roles before was tradition. Now that she has to learn these skills, she can and she does. She figures out how to not just to hunt, but to make her own weapons, to cure her own meat. That made a big impression on me as a kid. But that novel is also a story of great loneliness. This girl grew into a woman and was self-sufficient for decades, alone on her beautiful island. She was brave and skilled, but wouldn’t it have been better if she could have been that way in a community, with other people? And could she have been that way in her community, with other people?

More recently, I have loved Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It’s sort of the opposite kind of story: how not to live. In fact, it’s kind Sartre’s No Exit redux. Both Ishiguro and Sartre repeat the same themes, of characters living the same tiny trapped lives, mainly out of fear.

But if I had to pick one writer, it would be Walt Whitman. The books I love most are ones that enlarge and expand. I’m attracted to boldness in its various forms, but especially in language. I can’t resist those expansive Whitmanesque strokes, his wide open syntax. Likewise I love writers who treat language as a big lush banquet: Toni Morrison and Karen Russell and Junot Diaz and Marquez and McCarthy. The list goes on.

I just read Paul Harding’s Tinkers, and the minute I finished it, I started it again. It’s funny, the title and subject matter of that book suggest minutiae, but he uses language in big and exciting ways.


JULIA FRANKS has roots in the Appalachian Mountains and has spent years kayaking the rivers and creeks of Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia. She lives in Atlanta, where she teaches literature and runs loosecanon.com, a web service that fosters free-choice reading in the classroom. Her novel, Among the Plain Houses (Hub City Press) was released in May, 2016 and is a SIBA Spring Okra Pick.