Eve Gleichman and Laura Blackett are best friends who write together. Their natural chemistry oozes onto the pages of their debut The Very Nice Box. It’s an off-kilter work place comedy where bad men get what’s coming to them.
I asked the duo to fill out the semi-regular “A Life of Books” questionnaire to help introduce them to readers.
Is there a book or series that, when you think back, helped define your childhood?
LB: I think it would be a terrible thing if this series defined my childhood, but I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events. It was the first time I can remember being so carried away by a book that I stayed up all night to finish it. I couldn’t get enough of the suspense, and looking back I think reading this series was the first time I ever really “binged” something.
Another series I remember loving when I was much younger was The Boxcar Children. I was hooked by the mysteries they uncovered, and I loved the home they built for themselves. I pretty much loved any depiction of unsupervised children with actual responsibilities.
EG: I too, was obsessed with both these series. Something I remember about Boxcar Children in particular is that I found a typo (a missing period) in one book, and circled it. That missing punctuation made me realize that a real person had written (and edited) the book, and that I could do something like that one day, too. Before those books, I was really obsessed with James Marshall, and particularly with George and Martha, a pair of friendly (romantic?) hippos navigating their relationship and the mundane pleasures and pains of everyday life.
Would you want any children in your life (yours or relatives’) to read those too? Or what’s your philosophy on what children read?
LB: I think we tend to underestimate what children can take in and understand. We want to protect kids from trauma and stress and chaos, and I think that for some people that instinct might extend to the worlds they’re exposed to when they read. I think we should give them the opportunity to think and debate about more complex issues, especially if we’re there to help them think things through.
EG: I couldn’t have said it better. Books are a safe place to learn and take risks, and they should read whatever they want.
Moving to your school years: what book did you read in high school and hated (or skipped reading at all) that you learned you loved later in life?
LB: I skipped a lot of books in high school– or at least as much of the assigned book as I could get away with. I learned how to read for the purposes of analytical writing in high school, but I don’t think school was really the place where I learned to love reading. Or even where I discovered the kind of fiction that I really enjoy– fun, suspenseful, plot-driven.
One example that comes to mind is that I remember being asked to read The Road, and feeling really bored by it. Then later, after college, I revisited it and loved it. I think reading it on my own timeline made a huge difference. I had the space to really appreciate how dark the world was and get lost in it.
EG: Like Laura, I skipped a lot of books in high school. My issue was that I was (and am) a slow reader and refused to skim or speed-read. I still don’t really know how to skim. After high school, I revisited several of the books I’d skipped, and I especially loved Gatsby. Without the pressure of a curriculum, I was able to savor the novel over a month. I was nineteen, living in New York for the first time, and in a way, I’m glad I skipped it the first time.
What about the opposite way? One you loved in your teens, but realized you didn’t love it so much later on?
LB: I loved Ethan Frome. The forbidden romance, the angst! There’s one scene where Ethan desperately wants to confess his feelings for his wife’s cousin, but all he can do is touch the end of the shawl she’s knitting, and he feels electrified by it. Something about this really spoke to me as a teen, and I tried to revisit it in adulthood and it just didn’t have the same hold on me.
EG: I loved Lord of the Flies, and would obsess over what I would do if I were in those boys’ position. Would I be a fearless leader or doomed follower? Would I hunt or get hunted? I re-read it last year and found the premise so disturbing and unpleasant, I had to put it down.
Are there any books that you read while writing your debut that helped shape the direction you took your own book
EG: We really didn’t know the direction our book would take until we were writing it. But there are a couple books I was reading at the time that surely made their way into my consciousness; The Price of Salt comes to mind. It’s romantic and thrilling like THE VERY NICE BOX.
LB: I think there are a lot of ways to read. One of my favorite ways to take in stories is by talking to people in my life and asking a lot of questions. I think the question “so then what happened???!” might be inscribed on my tombstone.
The things we were reading included subway ads, infuriating texts from my landlord, dating profiles, online personality quizzes, company memos, and articles about scams. I was also listening to a lot of design podcasts and watching suspenseful TV, like Search Party and You.
What is a book you’ve read that you thought, Damn, I wish that was mine?
LB: I love The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson so much. The way she writes about desire and identity really speaks to me. I think the genre-bending nature of the book is really generous in that it offers many ways in. I think I could read it every year for the rest of my life and still not squeeze all the juice out of it. I feel obligated to say that I could have never written it. But I appreciate it so much.
EG: I often feel envy about short story collections. Murakami has this effect on me: how did he do that, and how can I do that? So many others fit into this category: Maile Meloy, Brad Watson, Wells Tower, Mary Gaitskill, Jhumpa Lahiri, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, Peter Ho Davies. I am full of envy and admiration for these writers and so many others.
What books helped get you through quarantining and social distancing during 2020?
LB: The Choose Your Own Dykeventure zines by Maddy Court really sustained me. This is a series of choose your own adventure stories that follow queer people around a satirical gay landscape. They’re short, but you can read them dozens of times and end up in a different place every time. It was the perfect thing to read during quarantine because it felt like one small way of getting out of the house. Also, they are really fun to read with someone else over the phone, so they helped me connect with the people in my life at a distance.
EG: I read Severance by Ling Ma during quarantine, which was extremely appropriate (though perhaps not therapeutic). I also read and loved Memorial by Bryan Washington, With Teeth by Kristen Arnett, and Girlhood by Melissa Febos. I highly recommend them all.
And, finally, I have to ask… I’m sorry. What’s next? But wait! Only use three words.
LB and EG: Home Improvement Disaster