Reading Matters

Five most memorable books of Frances Mayes

The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats and The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats

I read Yeats my sophomore year at Randolph-Macon. Certain blinders fell away, and I saw the grand ambition, the grand talent, and the life that was a solar system away from what I knew from my southern upbringing. I memorized so many of his poems, became fascinated with the occult, fell in love with Ireland. He has been a life-long companion.

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

The sheer imaginative power of this book made it an instant classic on my shelves. I loved the first magical sentence—and that someone was born with a little tail. What came to be known as “magical realism” always seemed very close to the under-layers of the South.

All the books by Colette

When I read Colette, I was just launching myself as a writer. She was my mentor because of her genius at capturing the immediacy of experience through sensory images. Break of Day may be why I later ended up buying a house and decamping to a Mediterranean life. I apprenticed myself to her language and learned how to make images that suited me.

All the poems of John Keats

Ditto from Colette. I chose Keats for my masters’ orals because I so responded to his sensory language, especially in “The Eve of Saint Agnes.” His writing is luminous and very dear to me. Every few years I reread his great letters.

Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

A one-of-a-kind writer who enlarged the form of the novel, mixing it with history, architecture, photography and memoir in a seamless narrative style that remains slippery and mysterious. I admire all his work.

FRANCES MAYES of Hillsborough and Tuscany is a poet and probably best known for her best-selling memoir, “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Her most recent work is “Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir,” just out in paperback (Broadway Books, $15).

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