Writer Alexandra Fuller has lived in Wyoming since 1994, but hasn’t been able to shake Africa, where she grew up with a larger-than-life mother on a struggling farm surrounded by land mines and trigger-happy rebels. She reads from her second memoir, “Cocktails Under the Tree of Forgetfulness,” at Porter Square Books this Tuesday at 7 p.m.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
FULLER: I have gotten stranded on this stunning interview with the painter Ran Ortner. It’s in The Sun magazine. He suffered a breakdown and decided to put down his paint brushes. It reminds me of Buckminster Fuller, who, after he’d lost his daughter, took a vow of silence for a year. Both men stopped engaging in the world and their art in an automatic way to seek out what they were supposed to do in the world.
BOOKS: Are you reading anything else in this vein?
FULLER: When I’m between projects, which is always a searching time for me, I head to philosophy. I’m reading the essays of Michel de Montaigne along with Sarah Bakewell’s biography of him, “How to Live.” The essays are great. He didn’t want anything resolved by his death that could have been resolved by his life, or, as Ran Ortner puts it, to not die with the poetry in you.
BOOKS: Do you read memoir?
FULLER: Yes. One I was recently smitten with is “The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating” by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. It’s a tiny, deeply expressive book about when Bailey became ill with a severe virus. A friend brought her a wild snail from her garden and plopped it by her bed. I also just read this remarkable memoir, “One Day I Will Write About This Place” by Binyavanga Wainaina. He’s a Kenyan who went to college in South Africa near the end of apartheid. I found myself dying with laughter. Apartheid is far from hilarious, but if you are experiencing it as a young African on the ground it can be inadvertently funny.
BOOKS: Are you a novel reader?
FULLER: No, not because I don’t want to be but because I become incredibly impatient. The last book I was crazy about was “The Life of Pi” by Yann Martel.
BOOKS: Was that always the case?
FULLER: It happened in my late 20s. You know the way books gang up on you and change the way you think forever. I was ganged up on by Mary Karr’s “The Liar’s Club,” Michael Ondaatje’s “Running in the Family,” and James Galvin’s “The Meadow.” They wrote about quite difficult climates and difficult, drunk people with such love and such lack of judgment.
BOOKS: Does place influence your reading?
FULLER: In Wyoming, I sometimes retreat to books about Africa, such as “The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo” by Peter Orner, which is a beautifully done novel set in Namibia. I loved Helene Cooper’s “The House at Sugar Beach,” her memoir of growing up in Liberia, and “This Child Will Be Great” by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia. Her story is breathtaking. In Africa, I retreat to Somerset Maugham’s short stories, which remind me of my mother, who was a big fan of his. She also loved Joseph Conrad. I will reread Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” for comfort, which seems crazy.
BOOKS: What other authors does your mother like?
FULLER: Her comfort food is Agatha Christie. She was really smitten with Beryl Markham’s “West with the Night,” that heavily romantic version of Africa. I always found that odd since she lived such the unromantic version. Ironically, given how overtly racist she is, she has a huge collection of black African writers.
BOOKS: Do you and your mother exchange books?
FULLER: Yes. It is a way of sharing a deep intimacy without getting into how we disagree politically. She also sends me obituaries that she thinks are amusing and clippings from the Namibian paper, like about someone getting bewitched.