Books on writing: Amina Cain & Elena Ferrante

I just finished reading A Horse At Night, by Amina Cain. It’s a lovely book, a love letter to LA, and a reflection on writing & life. Just gorgeous (and as an added bonus, I kept having these shocks of recognition – yes! it’s like that! as I read it, because the author got it, whatever it is, so right).

As I was finishing it, I saw a connection to Eve Babitz’ writing too – I finished reading Black Swans yesterday – in its love for LA, and its descriptions of the lushness of southern California plants. I remembered my own trips up and down the canyons when I lived there, and my greed for bougainvillea and birds-of-paradise. Babitz is up front about her love for the city – it’s one of the key points of all her books. I wonder if Cain noticed her own, but either way it’s there.

A few months back, I read Elena Ferrante’s In the Margins. It’s a physically gorgeous book, and it fascinated me, in part because its ideas seemed so alien – imagining that only men were great writers?! an emotional reaction to the edge of a page, the sense that there was a boundary, something forbidden or transgressive in how you might approach it?! really?! – but that alienness, too, offered me a sense of my own good fortune, and something to set myself in contrast to.

Yesterday I organized my bookcases. I am more or less out of space; there’s a little give at the end of some shelves, one shelf with maybe two inches free, and another other where I keep oversized coffee table & gardening books has some room – but really, it’s packed.

Cain’s book seems to me like what I want in a book on writing. As I read it, I kept getting these little bursts of inspiration, like mini firecrackers, whereas with Ferrante’s it was more like a sense of watching something intellectually interesting but fundamentally alien, inhospitable to me. And so I’m letting Ferrante’s book go, and keeping Cain’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s