The best books for poets who want to write fiction

The Books I Picked & Why

House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories

By Yasunari Kawabata

House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories

Why this book?

Novellas are a perfect place to start for poets who are interested in writing longer, more narrative work. They’re slim, lyrical, and less daunting. I read this novella in college & haven’t stopped thinking about it since. It takes place in what I can only refer to as a “Sleeping Brothel” where elderly men pay to sleep beside young women. The story is haunting, but it doesn’t take cheap horror shots. Instead, it delves into the complexity of loneliness, the shared vulnerability of sleep, and the human need for comfort.


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The Governesses

By Anne Serre, Mark Hutchinson

The Governesses

Why this book?

This French novella was written in the early ’90s but translated in 2019 to English for the first time. It lacks structure and is full of plot holes, but Serre’s writing is equal parts whimsical and erotic. It feels a bit like she wrote it in one sitting during some kind of fever dream but that’s why it feels like a poem. If you’re into chaotic women and turn of the century kink, then this is for you.


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We the Animals

By Justin Torres

We the Animals

Why this book?

My favorite! Some people think it’s too flowery and abstract, but I think Torres’s ability to capture brutality and adolescence almost entirely through a sensual reckoning is incredible. I’d love to hear the entire book read aloud as a single monologue. No, I have not seen the movie because I don’t want to corrupt my experience. Keywords: sad, gay, hot.


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A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

By Lucia Berlin

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories

Why this book?

Okay, honestly Lucia Berlin is my second cousin. But also, she is a fantastic storyteller with a seemingly infinite number of bite-sized memories, any of which could be adapted into a feature film. This particular collection is her most famous, but any of her collections will do the job. She’s a ruthlessly observant cultural interloper, traveling through the Southwest, Mexico, and California, taking on odd jobs, hearty love affairs, brief addictions, and small-town dramas. I feel like I knew her which is second-best to actually knowing her.


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The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial

By Maggie Nelson

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial

Why this book?

The first time I read this book, I had the whole-body sensation of having my mind simultaneously read and fed. Nelson put words to fantasies and fears I’d never thought to vocalize, while also functioning as an educator, leaving me with an entirely new understanding of true crime as a media sensation. This is a memoir about the process of writing her book of poems, Jane. Jane chronicles the story of her aunt, who was murdered as a young college student, while The Red Parts goes into Nelson's personal process and how the investigation of a murdered family member can become all-consuming. I highly recommend reading both in succession because the dialogue between them is astounding.


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