Joy Castro: What Nola and I Are Reading


Nearer Home, the second novel in Joy Castro’s New Orleans centered Nola Céspedes crime series finally arrived earlier this week.  To celebrate, we’re giving away 3 copies of both the first entry, Hell or High Water, and this brand new installment.

Yesterday, we asked Ms. Castro some questions about her writing process and what she thinks the future holds for her unstable heroine.  Today, we asked her to drop in and tell us a little bit about what’s currently taking up space in her bookshelf as well as what she thinks Nola should be reading.


Joy Castro

Investigative journalist Nola Céspedes, the protagonist of both Hell or High Water and Nearer Home, is an avid reader.  Classic writers serve as touchstones for her; she quotes Robert Frost in Hell or High Water and Graham Greene in Nearer Home.  (The title itself, Nearer Home, comes from the Frost poem “Desert Places.”)

If Nola read crime fiction, she’d definitely be a fan of classic detective and noir authors like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Kenneth Fearing:  I envision her eating up their tough, hard-boiled style, as I do—and laughing when their manly-man rhetoric goes over the top.

My favorite contemporary crime authors are Dennis Lehane, for his fast-moving plots, clean dialogue, and unimpeachable sense of rough justice, and Kate Atkinson, because she’s an incredible literary writer (she beat out Salman Rushdie for the Whitbread Prize).  When she invested her terrific skill set in detective fiction, she singlehandedly raised the genre to a new level.  I’ve been steeped in great novels (I’m a literature professor) for over twenty years now, and Atkinson’s gorgeous When Will There Be Good News? is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, period.

Tana French and John Banville writing as Benjamin Black are other very literary writers of crime fiction whose work I admire.  In a gentler mood, I like Charles Finch’s historical Charles Lenox series and Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series, set in Edinburgh.  I’m also excited about newer female writers of color who are working in the genre, like Attica Locke and Steph Cha.  I’m loving the new things we’re doing with the forms we’ve inherited.

More generally, my favorite writers are Katherine Mansfield and Jean Rhys, both consummate insider-outsiders of the modernist movement of the early twentieth century.  Their styles are quite different, but both are jaw-droppingly exquisite and lean.  In Latina/o literature specifically, the work of Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, and Judith Ortiz Cofer opened doors for me.   I’m also a big fan of Sergio Troncoso, Lorraine M. López, and Daniel Chacón.

My desert-island book is George Eliot’s Middlemarch.  I love its mature intelligence and comprehensive vision.  It does everything.  I’m not sure Nola’s quite ready to appreciate it, but she’s getting there.

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.