Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.
An interview with Jackie Chalghin, an English major with a concentration in fiction writing. Jackie is a senior who is writing an honors thesis and plans to attend graduate school in the fall for an MFA in fiction. They can recite the alphabet backwards.
What books are on your night stand?
I like to keep a collection of poetry by my bed. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver holds the current spot, and it has become a habit to read one poem before I start my day. Also, the books I am currently reading: Kink, a collection of short stories edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell; as well as A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.
How do you organize your books?
It’s random and intuitive. I’m already not an organized person, and currently have about 70 books in my dorm room, so maintaining a fixed system would be unmanageable for me. I will say that I keep a handful of special books in a crossbody bag in case of fire. I grab it every time there is a drill. It contains Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina; Maragaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye; Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life; Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings; and a beat up collection of Adrienne Rich poems.
Was there a book that particularly inspired you?
I was particularly inspired by the novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, as well as its author, Ocean Vuong. He grew up in Hartford, CT, a city that feels very similar to mine of Bridgeport, CT—defined by sharp wealth gaps and, consequently, an uneven distribution of resources. My own parents are from Syria, and this novel was the first time I had seen such a careful exploration of the intergenerational effects of war on immigrant families. That, and of course there is always the writing itself. Each sentence is well crafted without being overwrought, and the form does not follow a linear timeline; the novel is propelled by the momentum of each individual sentence.
Which writers—novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets—working today do you admire most?
Rachel Syme and Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker. Playwright, and recently producer, Jeremy O. Harris—though I have not seen Slave Play—for the volume of conversation he has sparked, and for making theater that has gripped younger audiences. Poets Ocean Vuong and Danez Smith. Alexander Chee’s narrative essays. Recently, Dantiel W. Moniz and Bryan Washington for fiction.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
From Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind by Lyall Watson: winds have names, and each has long been known to trigger certain affects. Not too many centuries ago in Europe, if someone committed a murder, and could prove in court that a malevolent wind had blown that day, they would be acquitted.
What kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
It’s hard for me to read great fiction while I’m trying to write fiction myself. I get choked off.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
In retrospect, I learned a lot about attention to detail from the Nancy Drew books. She solved crimes by noticing the smallest things. In one book, there was a character who would paint her nails each night at the same time, and had been doing so for decades. A murder happened one evening, and this woman would not have been a usual suspect, but her nails were chipped the day after the murder; that she had not been repainting her nails at the time of murder stripped her of an alibi. The facts of the story all lined up after the realization of this detail.
What’s the last book you read that made you laugh? The last book you read that made you cry? The last book you read that made you furious?
I had a reading experience unlike any other at the end of Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon—as in tremors and full body goosebumps—not because it was overly sentimental, but because it was so stunning. I didn’t know how to go about the rest of my day.
What do you plan to read next?
Venita Blackburn’s short story collection How to Wrestle a Girl, and Dantiel W. Moniz’s Milk Blood Heat.