Since Tayari Jones’s fourth novel, “An American Marriage,” was published last year she has picked up one honor after another, including being named an Oprah Winfrey book club selection. The bestseller traces the implosion of a happy marriage after the husband is wrongly accused of a crime. Jones lives in her hometown of Atlanta, where she is a professor of creative writing at Emory University. “An American Marriage” is now out in paperback.
BOOKS: What have you been reading?
JONES: A lot of short stories because I’m on the plane so much. It’s like those snack-sized bags of peanuts they give you, just enough for a plane ride. I loved “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky” by Lesley Nneka Arimah, a very young Nigerian-American writer. It’s a little bit magical, and the social commentary is very sly. I also liked Renee Simms’s collection “Meet Behind Mars.” One story is entirely the letters a black woman sends to a school about the way they are treating her son.
BOOKS: Who are your favorite all-time short story writers?
JONES: I love to read short stories by Amy Bloom. Raymond Carver will never let you down, and you know what you are going to get. I love young short-story writers because they are often surprising, but I’m drawn to Carver because he is not.
BOOKS: What novels are you reading?
JONES: I just finished “Speaking of Summer” by Kalisha Buckhanon. It’s about twin sisters. One is missing, and the other is trying to find her, and the police aren’t paying attention. It’s this really complex psychological drama. I also read “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips. It’s set on an isolated peninsula on the northern edge of Russia. That can girl can write.
BOOKS: What was your last great read?
JONES: “Mighty Justice,” a memoir by Dovey Johnson Roundtree. She was a black woman who was one of the many lawyers who brought all these cases that chipped away at segregation before Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education. I thought it would be like a history lesson, like eating your spinach, but I was sucked in.
BOOKS: What else do you read?
JONES: I read a lot of poetry. I’m always returning to Lucille Clifton. You know how old people touch their finger to a page in the Bible and say that’s my daily word. I do that with her poetry.
BOOKS: Do you have favorite Southern novels?
JONES: Alice Walker’s “Meridian,” which is seldom talked about. The urban South is underrepresented in Southern literature, and I resist the idea that when people talk about the South that it’s shorthand for African-American misery. That’s reductive, and it doesn’t represent my experience.
BOOKS: Who are some Southern writers you wish were better known?
‘If I see LOL on a page I want to put the book down. We are not LOLing.’
JONES: So many. I wrote the introduction to “The Darkest Child” by Delores Phillips, which is a masterpiece. It’s about a very unusual family on the cusp of the civil rights movement. She was a nurse and wrote this autobiographical novel.
BOOKS: Do you have any pet peeves about books?
JONES: I have a lot. I’m not a big fan of unreliable narrators. I also don’t like it when a book is pitched to me different than what it is. Don’t tell me it’s a whodunit if I don’t know whodunit by the end because expectation is such big part of the reading experience. I also have a hard time with text messages. If I see LOL on a page I want to put the book down. We are not LOLing.
BOOKS: Are you a fast reader?
JONES: I used to be super fast. My cellphone has affected my reading and concentration. It has made all of us into skimmers.
BOOKS: How do you fight that?
JONES: After I’m done talking with you I’m going to a coffee shop with a book. I just leave my phone behind. I walk to the coffee shop, get myself a scone, and just slip away. That’s my gift to myself today.Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org