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Torrey Peters’s Inspirations

todayApril 2, 2022 9

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For the past few months, I’ve been completing one book per week as part of a reading challenge that is proving rigorous but delightful. I’ve recaptured some of the uncomplicated joy of reading I remember from childhood, when books were home base, a place I was always trying to get back to. When I’d reread a book just to spend more time with its characters.

I had this experience with Torrey Peters’s “Detransition, Baby,” which won the PEN/Hemingway Award in February. I first read the book last winter, but I found myself wondering recently about one of its characters, Reese, a transgender woman trying to decide whether she wants to start a family with her ex and her ex’s new girlfriend. I had the inclination to text Reese, as if she were a friend I hadn’t checked in on in a while.

I never tire of hearing about artists’ inspirations, or getting recommendations from creative people whose work I love. So I asked Peters about the culture that’s exciting her lately. I reached her by phone at home in Brooklyn, where she’s recently returned from a winter in Colombia before departing for book tours in the U.S. and Europe this spring.

“I’m obsessed with this book ‘Independent People,’ by Halldor Laxness,” Peters told me. The 1930s novel explores the life an Icelandic sheep farmer. “You start out reading about the sheep farmer and you think it’s the most boring book in the world,” Peters said. But it grew on her. She was especially taken by Laxness’s warmth for his characters and the affectionate way that he pokes fun at them.

To appreciate “the warmth and humor and ridiculousness” of the book “requires a kind of focus that I think is out of vogue,” Peters said.

She finds Laxness and the demands he puts on readers inspiring for her own work. “I spend a lot of time thinking, ‘How can I do the Halldor Laxness thing, but how can I do it for people who are on Twitter all day? Who grew up watching Tarantino?’”

Peters gets up at 5:30 a.m. and reads by candlelight; on a good day, she might read for two hours. Then she’ll put on the computer scientist and writer Cal Newport’s podcast, “Deep Questions.” “It’s sort of like having a work coach just mildly exhorting you in the background,” she said.

When it’s warm, she heads to the waterfront to watch the sun. Because of how her Brooklyn neighborhood is situated, Peters said, she can’t see it rise directly. “But you can watch the sunrise in the reflections of the buildings, and it’s almost more beautiful than sunrise,” she said. “It’s like watching the sunrise in a fractured mirror.”

Peters is a connoisseur of croissants and has strong opinions about fillings. “I’m very anti-pistachio in croissants,” she said. “But if you’re just totally reinventing the croissant and putting halloumi in it, I’ll go with that.”

In an email after we spoke, Peters wrote that she’s looking forward to reading “Bad Girls,” the English translation of a novel by the Argentine writer Camila Sosa Villada, which will be published in May. The book is about a group of trans sex workers who find and adopt an abandoned baby, “which seems like a counterpoint to ‘Detransition, Baby’ in some ways,” she wrote.

What are you reading or watching or cooking or listening to that you’re excited about lately? Drop me a line and let me know.

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todayApril 2, 2022 9