The Books That Made Me – Jennifer Clement
The Service95 Book Club is launching a new series called The Books That Made Me. In this series, cultural figures will discuss the books that have influenced their lives and work. The first guest of the series is the masterful Jennifer Clement, author of Gun Love (2018), Prayers For The Stolen (2014) and her latest work, The Promised Party (2024). The Promised Party was released earlier this month and is inspired by her life and the rich artistic history growing up between New York and Mexico City. Here, the author shares some of the books that have influenced her life.
The Book Whose Cover I Judged… The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery lay around my house as a child. It took years to overcome my disinterest in the now well-known cover with a drawing of a boy standing on a small planet. But I loved the lonely prince and the objects and creatures in the book: a rose will always be insufferably proud, and a hat is a boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant.
The Book That Changed My Mind… The Rebel, the book-length essay by Albert Camus on the history of rebellion, transformed me. I read it when I was about 20 years old and understood that rebellion takes on many forms. Camus writes that being an artist is to be a rebel, as the arts, in many instances, have created social change. And I’d add rebellion with a core search for truth and a total rejection of dogma.
The Book I Always Recommend To My Friends… The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands. Through the raising of a wild wolf cub into maturity and a lifespan of over 10 years, Rowlands, a philosopher, explores ideas on human evil and the pursuit of happiness. Rowlands took his doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford and is known for his work on the moral status of animals. In Rowlands’ memoir, the strange and beautiful closeness that develops so that the wild animal can survive in our world allows him to explore some of the perennial questions to do with our values, our purpose, and what it means to love.
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The Book That Opened My Eyes… There is an anthology called This Prison Where I Live, which is a PEN anthology of writers’ work penned in prison, edited by Siobhan Dowd. It consists of a compilation of diary entries, letters, poems and stories, which have marked me. It’s a unique book on an overlooked literary genre: the works of writers imprisoned due to political oppression. It is both moving and edifying to read what loss of freedom and the role of the imagination meant to writers such as the Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet, Wole Soyinka from Nigeria, Reza Baraheni from Iran, the Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman, and Irina Ratushinskaya from Ukraine, among many. To read about the hoarding of toilet paper as writing paper in the story by the Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is heart-stopping. And, not surprisingly, these pages express the universal joy writers in prison feel when receiving letters. The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky called this book a “manual for asserting individualism under overwhelming odds”.
The Author Whose Entire Bibliography I’ve Read… I’ve read everything written by the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, who only wrote a few small books in his lifetime. His novel Pedro Paramo is one of the great 20th-century books written in Spanish. In imagining a literary lineage, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is a lineage, which is a kind of bibliography of novels on worlds inhabited by ghosts.
Jennifer Clement‘s latest novel, The Promised Party, has just been released. The book provides an intriguing glimpse into Clement’s life. From her bohemian childhood days, living next door to Frida Kahlo’s house in 1960s Mexico, to her adulthood in 1980s New York and the worlds of William S Burroughs and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Clement’s life has been nothing short of exhilarating. This book explores the rich art, culture and history of New York and Mexico City – the two places that played a significant role in shaping her formative years. It is a beautiful and informative book that provides readers with an engaging glimpse into the life of a true artist.