ADJEI-BRENYAH: I’m in the middle of reading “The Ensemble,” a debut novel by Aja Gable. It’s about a string quartet right before they go to a contest that will decide their careers. One of the things that impresses me about the novel is that she gets me into the mindset of these classical musicians. I’m into writers who don’t avoid the technical specificity of what they are writing about but still make me feel connected to it. I usually don’t read two books at the same time, but I’ve also been reading Ocean Vuong’s “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” another debut novel. It’s super beautiful on a line level and super tender in the best kind of way.
BOOKS: Do you make a point of reading debuts?
ADJEI-BRENYAH: I have this year and last. It’s nice to see a new voice and I think there’s something special about a first novel, before an author has a guaranteed readership.
BOOKS: What were the top debuts you read?
BOOKS: How would you describe your taste as a reader?
ADJEI-BRENYAH: I like the feeling of someone taking a shot. I’m not even sure what literary fiction means but I joke that it means how boring can you be and still be good. I resist stories that are going into that tradition. I like stories in which things happen. I like authors that don’t take my time from credit. I also like it when a novel makes my brain feel like it’s operating at a higher level.
BOOKS: What are some prime examples of books that did that for you?
BOOKS: Have any literary classics done that for you?
BOOKS: What kind of reader were you as a kid?
ADJEI-BRENYAH: My mom was big reader. My little sister is an insane reader. Between my family and our two neighbors in Spring Valley [New York] we almost had a little book club. We would read something and then pass it around. You’d have to be up to date or you couldn’t be in the conversation.
BOOKS: When have you read the most in your life?
ADJEI-BRENYAH: In my MFA program at Syracuse University, where I had three or four classes all assigning books. I’m a slow reader. I get frustrated a lot because it seems like people are flying through books in 10 seconds. Are people skimming? If I’m skimming that means I don’t like the book. I take my time and allow it to enter my memory.
BOOKS: Do you read nonfiction?
ADJEI-BRENYAH: I try to. I am going to read “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon soon. I have been reading poetry, especially in airports, such as Grady Chambers’s “North American Stadiums.” I needed something that would require a certain amount of attention, a kind of attention that makes me forget I’m in an airport. Poetry does that.
BOOKS: What will you read next?
ADJEI-BRENYAH: I just bought “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead. Now I read on trend, which I feel weird about, like I’m in the book of the month club. I gotta get off the beaten path.