Name: Savannah Osborn
Where you live: New York, NY
Insta handle: @savannahosborn
Current read: Novel – We That Are Young by Preti Taneja; Story Collection – Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires; Non-fiction – The Art of Time in Fiction by Joan Silber
What has been your favorite read of the past year?
I found Frances de Pontes Peebles’ The Air You Breathe to be stunning, lyrical, evocative. I had a bad book hangover after finishing it and couldn’t get into another book for weeks.
What is one book that you think will (or should) become a classic in the next 30 (or 50) years? Why?
I think The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro should reach classic status, and seems to be well on its way. A mythopoeic, quasi-Arthurian pastiche, this book feels both timeless and relevant to past, present, future. It explores how humanity attempts to evade its fate and asks, what does a society choose to remember, and how does that inhibit (or aid) its progress? Ishiguro provides a counterargument to George Santayana’s mantra, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” in a striking, literal way, making The Buried Giant a thought-provoking and beguiling read.
Imagine this. You and a celebrity of your choice are becoming friends. They have asked you for a book rec. Who is the celebrity and what book do you recommend?
I don’t really keep up with pop culture, so a celebrity is, to me, an author or writer I admire and look up to. I’m pretty obsessed with Lauren Groff. I’d love to chat with her about Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—in part, I think, because it reminded me so much of her short story “L. Debard and Aliette.” I’d want to hear her thoughts on the book’s unique format and narrative voice.
How do you choose your next read?
I’ve always been a mood reader. Planning what I’m going to read next—or even attempting a loose TBR—is futile. I’m usually in the middle of a few books at a time, because I like to have a stimulating, challenging, sort of dense read going, as well as a lighter, “comfy” read for before bed, or when my energy is low. I’m also a big believer in the idea that there’s a book (and many books!) out there for everyone, so if you’re in a reading rut, don’t succumb to the pressure to read what’s popular right now, or what’s winning all of the awards, or even what you have on your bookshelf—sometimes it takes something completely fresh and different (or something old and familiar) to make a person fall in love with reading again, and sometimes that just isn’t what you’d planned.
What book meant the most to you as a child?
This one is tough. Growing up, all I did was read—even in high school, I’d drop my friends off at a party and wait in the car with a book. I really didn’t do much else, so there’s a plethora of books that mean a lot to me. I loved The Magic Tree House books and the American Girl Doll series. The Phantom Tollbooth, The Boxcar Children, The Babysitter’s Club. Little House on the Prairie, The Borrowers. Everything both Beverly Cleary and Eleanor Estes ever wrote. If I had to pick a single, stand-alone, though? Probably From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Sneaking in to spend the night in the Met is still a fantasy of mine.
What is your favorite adaptation from book to film, theater, or television? What book do you wish would be adapted?
I dislike almost every book-to-media adaptation I consume (looking at you, Birdbox and The Haunting of Hill House), and even when an adaptation is spectacularly done, like I’d argue The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies are, I’d still rather read the books. My one exception is, strangely, Netflix’s TV series based on the A Series of Unfortunate Events books—I think the show captures the charm and aesthetic of the book series beautifully, in addition to preserving the books’ quirky, literary elements.
I think The Air You Breathe would make a phenomenal film—the book is already such a visual experience, packed with colorful characters and vivid imagery, and it would be fascinating to see 1930s Brazil and the Lapa samba scene contrasted with Los Angeles in Hollywood’s Golden Age.
What’s the one book everyone loves that you just cannot stand?
I found Nico Walker’s Cherry to be an artless, thinly-veiled memoir that coasted on its wave of hype/shock value for long past its welcome. I was excited for Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras—it had so much potential!—but was ultimately disappointed when the narration of the (fascinating) story felt flat and distant.
What is your favorite book set in or around the area where you live?
There are so many good ones, but my two current favorites are The Leavers by Lisa Ko and My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. In My Year of Rest and Relaxation, New York and New York City are largely a backdrop, but I loved seeing how the city inhibited and aided the narrator’s hibernation, and Moshfegh made even the three-block radius around her apartment feel like a tense and packed wildland, which I think is a reality for a lot of New Yorkers. It was also really interesting to see New York immediately pre-9/11, bursting with an optimism and hope that played eerily with the narrator’s own despondence. Conversely, in The Leavers, New York is a character of its own, rabid and unforgiving, often playing the antagonist to Deming and Polly, refugee mother and son, who get sucked in and spit out of the city over and over again throughout the book.
What is one classic you think is not overrated?
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is one of the few books I actually read in school (I SparksNote-ed most assigned reading so I could read “fun” books) and I really liked it. I revisited it recently and was struck again by how imaginative and intricate it is.
If you had to declare yourself an expert in one extremely specific genre, what would it be?
Probably short stories about mothers—those who already are mothers, those who wrestle with the idea of being or becoming mothers, those who navigate rough terrain with their own mothers, etc. It’s a breed of story I often find myself reading (Lauren Groff, Carmen Maria Machado, Joy Williams, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley) and feeling urged to write myself. I find the idea of motherhood endlessly fascinating.
What is your go-to book recommendation?
In the past year, I’ve given almost a dozen people a copy of Lauren Groff’s most recent story collection, Florida, and almost that many of Catherine Lacey’s collection, Certain American States. For people who are looking for more absurdist stuff, Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Maybe it’s the former-short-story-avoider in me that wants to prove to people how many brilliant stories are out there, or maybe I just think these three authors are badass.
What book changed your worldview in some way?
There There by Tommy Orange and Friday Black by Nana Kwami Adjei-Brenyah are two recent reads that hit me hard. There There made me realize how little Native American lit I’ve read—in addition to how so few books even feature a Native American character—and pushed me to seek out more, as well as yanking my eyes wide open to the atrocities that Indigenous people in the Americas faced—something that was hardly touched on in my suburban middle and high school curriculums. Friday Black is cunning, clever, funny, and terrifying, and spoke so blatantly to what was/is going on in the world, especially at the time in which it came out. It inspired me to write more overtly politically, with less fear that my voice might not matter.
If you could inhabit the life of one fictional character for a day, who would you choose?
Weirdly, probably Boris from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. He’s flighty and goofy, wild and entirely unapologetic, and he gets himself into the most bizarre situations—which, of course, he always manages to wiggle out of. I’d love to slip into his suede moccasins and smoke a few joints, hang out with some art forgers, maybe go on a car chase through Amsterdam.
Who do you think is the greatest female author?
Of all time? Oh, man. I love Isabel Allende. Shirley Jackson and Flannery O’Connor have inspired me a ton. Amy Hempel is brilliant. As far as new authors go, I’m a huge fan of Carmen Maria Machado and can’t wait to see where she goes. Julie Buntin is out-of-this-world good, and an incredible writing teacher, too.
I was homeschooled through eighth grade, so almost everything I learned came through books. I also grew up in a family where reading was ever-present and integral, for education and for pleasure—my mom read fairytales and classics to us over breakfast and my dad read aloud Sherlock Holmes and The Lord of the Rings trilogy after dinner. We listened to Jim Weiss audiobooks in the car on every trip. My parents are to credit for the voracious appetite I have for books and I’m incredibly grateful for that.
What’s at the top of your TBR or wish list?
- Bright Shiny Morning by James Fey
- Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
- Sing To It by Amy Hempel
- The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
- You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian