I started All The King’s Men in early spring—I picked up a used copy in the sale bin outside of a public library in Memphis. I paid a quarter for it and read it on the plane back to New York. I don’t know why I didn’t read it when I was twenty. I just loved it, but I’m sorry I didn’t read it when I was younger and more full of rage. I’ve been savoring it ever since. But at the same time, I’ve allowed myself to be waylaid by lots of other fiction.
Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs is the novel I finished last week, after the Mad Men finale. I’d never read her before except for a half hour I spent paging through most of The Emperor’s Children while standing in 192 Books on 10th Avenue in Chelsea on a Saturday afternoon, to get the general idea, a general idea I didn’t much like, but at least I’d found a good place to engage with the material. But I discarded any prior feelings for Messud in favor of a predisposition to love this novel because I’d heard some readers had trouble with Nora Marie Eldridge. Not me. I like a character who is not afraid to say that she hates. Sirena Shahid, the artist who Nora befriends, reminded me a little of Sarah Sze, an installation artist who was once my co-captain on a softball team at camp Killooleet in Vermont. But Sirena is likely more difficult and more messy than Sarah Sze. I understood why Nora would fall in love with Sirena and her husband and son. I believed in her anger, dreaded her inevitable betrayal, respected her obsession. I wish there were characters like Nora in more novels. I suppose sometime this summer I’ll go back to Barbara Pym’s novels, where there are plenty of them.
I also read Tampa by Alissa Nutting standing up in my office, faced toward a window, breathless. It’s a graphic sexual story of a young teacher called Celeste who has sex with students. I liked spending time with Celeste. She’s not nice or pleasant but it’s fun to see how she goes about getting her pleasure. I wish there were more novels like that. I’ve heard that Alissa Nutting is quite well spoken about her novel—though I don’t think she needs to be. It’s a great title, too.
I’m halfway through Amy Waldman’s The Submission. The novel feels like what I wish New York Magazine articles were, a deep dive into New York as a poor performing moral and global compass. The only thing that’ll keep me from getting back to it it will be discovering some new galley at ALA in Chicago, where I’ll be this weekend. So those are some books that have been standing between me and the last hundred pages of All The King’s Men.
Ben Schrank is president and publisher of Razorbill, a Penguin imprint that is home to many award-winning and New York Times–bestselling books for children and young adults. Ben is the author of the recent Sarah Crichton Books novel, Love Is a Canoe, as well as the novels Consent and Miracle Man. He wrote “Ben’s Life,” a monthly column for Seventeen magazine, in the 1990s. He grew up in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and son. For more information, please visit the author’s website, www.benschrank.com.