Renowned for his incisive thoughts on race, sexuality, and identity, author and essayist Brandon Taylor has become a crucial voice in contemporary cultural discourse. Born in 1988 and raised outside Montgomery, Alabama, his experiences growing up queer and of color in the Deep South heavily inform his writings.

Armed with an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Taylor catapulted into the literary limelight with his lacerating 2020 debut, Real Life. A finalist for the Booker Prize, it delves into the life of a gay, Black graduate student navigating the prejudices of a predominantly white university. Taylor followed it up with 2021’s Filthy Animals, a series of linked stories exploring love, longing, and loneliness among a cast of young creatives in the Midwest.

In a reading list for NY-based bookstore One Grand, Taylor shared ten tomes that have most impacted his life and craft. From Patricia Highsmith’s electric prose to Ann Petry’s acute approach to race in modern American fiction, find his favorites below. Dive into the bookshelves of other great writers here.

Brandon Taylor’s Reading List

Poems 1962-2012 by Louise Glück

“Glück is my favorite poet, and for most of my life, her rhythms and austerity have governed the way my prose moves and sounds. I wouldn’t be a writer without her poems, which brim with wisdom and lucid brutality, and this book collects most of her work into one really elegant volume.” -BT

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

“This novel is about a young person trying to figure out who they are and who they love, and it’s rendered with the same sensitive perception that Highsmith brings to every book. The writing alone is electric and beautiful, but the characters are utterly unforgettable.” -BT

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

“I read this book as a lonely 18-year old far away from home for the first time, and it cracked my whole universe open. I hadn’t read a book about queer life and adolescence before, and this one was just perfect.” -BT

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

“I loved Didion’s novels and of course had devoured The Year of Magical Thinking, but there’s something eerie and haunting about the lyrical fragments that cohere in Blue Nights around the loss of Didion’s daughter. This book’s language will stay with me forever, I think. It felt like the voice of grief itself speaking directly to me.” -BT

Edinburgh by Alexander Chee

“It’s not simply that this novel is brilliantly and ingeniously written. I loved this book for no small part because it perfectly captures the way one sometimes reinvents oneself in the wake of trauma. It’s just ghostly, this book. Ghostly and sublime.” -BT

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (also rec’d by Jesmyn Ward)

“I give out copies of this book fairly often. I found that in reading it I came to understand a little bit better my own baggage and complicated Southern family. It’s just such a wise and generous work, and it proves that Kiese Laymon is one of our great masters.” -BT

The Street by Ann Petry (also rec’d by Alice Walker & David Bowie)

“I was late to this novel, first published in 1946, but oh my goodness. I read it and felt immediately the narrowness and obsolescence of my own thinking about how to approach race in fiction. It’s a stunning novel about being Black and alive in America, and everyone should read it at least once a year. It’s the most urgent novel about contemporary America I’ve ever read.” -BT

Varieties of Exile by Mavis Gallant

“Mavis Gallant is story writer of the first order. In Varieties of Exile, she writes about people stuck in the great in-between of their lives. It’s a book of people displaced by the wake of World War II and living in the shadow of fascism.” -BT

Persuasion by Jane Austen (also rec’d by Nigella Lawson)

“I love Persuasion because it is a novel about people who change their minds, and there’s nothing more human than someone changing their mind and realizing the consequences of their choices. It’s a novel about grown up people making grown up decisions, but also it’s a novel about grown ups being childish and petty and silly. It’s her best novel, I think.” -BT

Poems by Elizabeth Bishop

“The first time I encountered Bishop’s great poem ‘One Art’ was at the end of a so-so biopic about the poet. I immediately looked her up and fell in love. Her formalism, her humor, her penetrating acuity.” -BT

(via One Grand Books; photo by Chloé Vollmer)

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Categories: Writers