1. Beasts – Joyce Carol Oates
I read this book in a day in a coffee shop during the Halloween season before a night of stripping (my job at the time), and I remember the black and white sundress, the proximate young poet with eyes darker than mine who tried to distract me from it. I was so enraptured with this tiny tale of beasts in human form and dangerous sexuality that all these particulars are a backdrop to the consuming experience of the book.
2. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
This book spoke to me on so many levels, the playfulness with language, the idea of obsession and evil and what people do to dress up that evil — the fact that it based, in fact, upon a true crime (a genre with which I’m obsessed) . It’s so modern in the way that the villain is given the floor to make his terrible case, and I think it inspired so much of modern cinema and novels.
3. You – Caroline Kepnes
An example of a book I think that owes something to the literary heritage of Lolita, giving the villain the floor to attempt to “gaslight” the reader (as I read Caroline describe this in W Magazine recently) is this brilliant novel by Caroline Kepnes. The author gives Joe, her narrator, all the tools and charisma and a stunning knowledge of books, to woo us with, and it’s a delight even as you know this is a seriously homicidal damaged and damaging individual.
4. Ballads & Tales of the Woods – Rick Rogers
Ballads & Tales of the Woods by Rick Rogers is a poetry book that was read to me by the author when I was a little girl in my elementary school in a tiny beach town of 5,000 people. Rick Rogers wasn’t from here, from the Ozark Mountains, but he traveled through and performed songs and poems in overalls, and he was the first poet I ever met, and instilled in me the sense that you did not have to be a fancy big city person to be a poet; you could come from a small place and have a small voice and make use of it.
5. Sanctuary by William Faulkner
I have such a complicated relationship with this book which I wrote a sonnet about (Southern Gothic Ghosts, published in Ghost City Review) because it was introduced to me by a villain in my life who told me I was a “Sanctuary girl.” I probably should hate this book for this reason, but for all the ways this person was wrong about me he was correct that I am fascinated by this dark book with a villain who comes from, like me and my own villain, Pensacola.
Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Best of the Net & Rhysling nominated sonnet stalker. Her sonnets have stalked journals Glass, Yes, Five:2:One, Luna Luna and more. She is the author of twelve books of poetry including Pink Plastic House (Maverick Duck Press), Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir (The Hedgehog Poetry Press), the forthcoming Flutter: Southern Gothic Fever Dream (TwistiT Press) and The Meadow (Apep Publications, 2020). Follow her on Twitter: (@lolaandjolie) and her website http://kristingarth.com