What's Natalie Goldberg reading?

Published Aug. 22, 2013


Natalie Goldberg

In preparation for the new school year, we caught up with Goldberg, 65, whose 1986 book Writing Down the Bones continues to be considered a bible by English teachers. Goldberg's latest work is The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language. She was raised on Long Island and lives in New Mexico, where she has conducted writing workshops for many years. The author of 10 books, Goldberg teamed up in 2007 with filmmaker Mary Feidt, travelling to Hibbing, Minn., for the documentary Tangled Up in Bob: Searching for Bob Dylan.

What's on your nightstand?

I recently reread Pride and Prejudice. I was visiting southern England and went to Jane Austen's house. The book was even more wonderful this time. I was just so proud of her, a women way back then expressing her voice and being very funny and caring about literature. In her way, she was trying to break the old standard by giving the world very strong women characters. I also have some books on my nightstand that I'm about to start reading. I just began Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. So far, it's strong writing, and since I was recently in Europe, I read again Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I put on a writing workshop in France, about two hours from Paris in sort of the Midwest of France, and I thought I should read a French writer.

Was there a specific book that started you down your writer's path?

I should tell you that I have never gotten over Carson McCullers' Ballad of a Sad Cafe. I read it in ninth grade. I'm a writer today because of that book. First, in my generation it was the only woman author we read in my entire high school career, but it was such a strange situation and it woke me up. Miss Amelia was 6-feet-3, and she fell in love with a hunchback who probably wasn't 5 feet tall. It was such a strange situation. It bolted me out of my usual way of seeing things.

It's fun to note that she's Southern, and you're a New Yorker.

That's true, but I love the South, and I love Florida. Speaking of the South, right before I went to Europe I took a class on Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. I never read him before. I was always afraid to. Also let me say that it was in the South, in Florida where my family had a home, that I remember discovering James Baldwin and Giovanni's Room. I remember reading it in my mother's back bedroom.

Any other recent reads that you want to mention?

Round House by Louise Erdrich.

Do you think it's her best?

It probably is. It's political and it's alive and it doesn't hit you over the head. It hits you in your heart. The opening is just a killer. Yes, I think this is her best.

Last question, for all those middle and high school students out there. What do you want to say to them?

I think it would have to be this: Be still for ten minutes. I'd tell them to please put down all their computer stuff, wherever they are, just take it all in. Listen and receive the world and let the world come home to them.

Piper Castillo, Times staff writer