Jonathan Harper is the author of the short story collection Daydreamers (Lethe Press).
He received his MFA in Creative Writing from American University. His writing has been featured in numerous publications and anthologies including The Rumpus, The Rappahannock Review, Chelsea Station, East Jasmine Review, Big Lucks, and others. He has received residencies from The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. He lives in Northern Virginia, watches a lot of period pieces, and loves nerdy board games.
Author Photo (photo credit: Gordon Phelps)
Read an Interview Here
A Few of My Favorite Things
How many times have we been asked to write out the “My Top Ten Favorite Books” list? Ugh – more times than I care to remember. It’s agonizing and very inconsistent and you all feel like you left something out. Also, I’m pretty bad at making decisions. But it felt weird not to include it, so here’s a dozen books that had an impact on me:
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
I read this when I was 21 at the recommendation of my best friend, Ginger, and I was instantly in love. The stories were so dark and blunt and made me instantly wish I had lived a much more dangerous life. I credit this book as inspiring me to take writing fiction seriously. (Side story: I actually met Gaitskill when she was a visiting writer during my MFA program. I was so excited, I had a singing countdown going in the weeks leading up to her campus visit. And when I approached her to get my books signed, I turned really shy and uncomfortable. She asked my name and I stuttered. She signed my books. And then, for reason unknown, the southern in me slipped out and I said, “Thank you, ma’am”, and she looked up at me as if I had grown two heads. Apparently that was not the thing to say.)
The End of Youth by Rebecca Brown
This sweet little collection holds my favorite essay, “The Smokers”, which makes the point that a long life means watching loved ones die. As I have gotten older and have lost beloved people, I find myself constantly pulling this book off the shelf and reading that essay because it brings me comfort.
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
I think this was the first queer book I ever read and it will always haunt me.
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
Ohmygoodness, the title story alone should have come with a warning label. These stories made me think and feel and their lessons have aged very well.
The Haunted Hillbilly by Derek McCormack
When I read it, this book really challenged my perception of how stories could be told. Blunt language, sentence fragments, nothing conventional. Plus, it’s about a vampire tailor seducing a fictionalized version of Hank Williams.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter
Ohmygoodness, the wedding dress, the collar, the swan puppet! So much symbolism in such a short novel.
Mother of Sorrows by Richard McCann
I first met Richard while working for the Lambda Literary Foundation in my early twenties and I consumed Mother of Sorrows. Even without knowing Richard, one could tell the book blended fiction with autobiography – I felt nostalgic for a life I didn’t live myself. Anyway, he was the reason I went to AU and was a wonderful instructor and mentor. His passing hurt on a deep level and makes me adore this book even more.
My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up by Stephen Elliott
A very childish part of me took a lot of delight in reading this book in public places, knowing the cover art made people very uncomfortable. Anyway, I love good and unsentimental sex writing, especially when it’s deep and multi-layered. (Another side-story: After I read this, I was pretty sure the third story “What It’s Like in San Francisco” was about the author’s tryst with a poet I know and adore, Daphne Gottlieb. The setting, the descriptions of her… I was sure of it. So when Stephen came to DC to hold a reading for The Adderall Diaries, I was determined to ask him. So, after the reading, I went to get my book signed and I stood there nervously and I wavered and he could tell I wanted to say something but didn’t know how, and I felt like I was losing my opportunity so at the last second, I blurted out my question much louder than intended. He nodded and said, “Of course, that’s Daphne. She republished the essay in an anthology titled: F*cking Daphne!” … I KNEW IT!)
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
I stumbled upon the graphic novel version by Junji Ito quite randomly in a small bookstore in Oakland, CA. For a story about “shame”, it was engrossing and psychological and never felt overbearing. When I finished it, I learned about the original – which added a whole layer of metafiction to the graphic novel. So, I got that one as well and it did not disappoint.
Poor Things by Alasdair Gray
So, I really loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein but I think I need to acknowledge Poor Things here because it reminded me of Shelley’s work without being a tedious epistolary novel. (No offense, but they are laborious.) Anyway, intriguing story about scientific curiosity and playing god with a very different take on Frankenstein’s monster.
Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook
Saw the movie, was intrigued, bought the book, got hooked. While most would not consider this a horror story, it is indeed a horror story about alcohol, and poor decisions, and toxic masculinity set in the Australian Outback.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
It’s really hard to pick my favorite Jackson book. But there was something so sinister and yet innocent about the the narrator, Merricat, that makes me want to reread this book every few years. I have, of course, quit adding sugar to … well… everything.