Novelist Kashana Cauley Is Sick of the Canon

This is OPEN BOOK, a new monthly column in which we ask debut authors about their reading and writing habits. In this first installment, we spoke with comedy-writer-turned-novelist Kashana Cauley, whose new book The Survivalists is a darkly funny, apocalyptic satire about a woman who finds herself trading Big Law for bunker-building in the face of the New York rent crisis. From her exhaustion with the literary canon to her preference for writing on the couch, Cauley briefs us on her unpretentious approach to literature. 


Where do you like to write?

On my couch.

When do you like to write?

Whenever I get a couple of hours free.

What’s the first thing you did after you turned in a draft of your novel?

Honestly, that was a while ago, so I don’t remember-remember. I probably ate tacos and moved swiftly onto another writing project that wasn’t sitting with somebody.

Tell us about a formative early reading experience.

Attempting to read the canon. See below.

The last book you loved, and why?

Assembly by Natasha Brown. That book is asking a lot of good, big questions, but the one that stood out most strongly to me was questioning the idea that to do better than our parents is mostly a matter of making more money than they do. Not only is that unlikely, it seems like a hollow value at its core. But it’s a value that is heavily sold to people like me, who grew up working class.

The last book that disappointed you, and why?

Down and Out In Paradise, The Life of Anthony Bourdain, by Charles Leerhsen. I’m probably not the right audience for unauthorized biographies, because I expect them to drop enough new material on us to be more like investigative reports. But really, he didn’t have anything you didn’t already know if, like me, you’re a dedicated enjoyer of the Bourdain-industrial complex.

Hardcover or paperback? Why?

Whatever form I can find the book in the second I decide I have to read it. As a part-time insomniac, I’m also partial to my Kindle at three a.m.

A book you think should be in the canon, but isn’t:

I don’t believe in the canon. Some of it is that I’m a person who thinks newness is part of the joy of being alive. I’m always excited about new books every year, and think plenty of new books stand up just fine to the stuff we were forced to read in seventh grade. And the other part of it is I got sick of reading the canon and realizing that a fair swath of it doesn’t consider Black women like me to be people. Personally I got sick of cracking open books from back in the day that were on some list of recommended reading just to find another segregationist having a ball. So, fuck the canon. People should read what they want.

A book you think shouldn’t be in the canon, but is:

See above.

What’s your favorite bookstore(s)?

In New York, McNally Jackson, Greenlight, Housing Works, Café con Libros. In LA, Eso Won (RIP), Skylight Books, Reparations Club, Stories in Echo Park. Books & Books in Miami. I’m originally from Madison, Wisconsin, where I’d like to shout out the University Bookstore on the UW Campus and the westside Barnes & Noble that didn’t kick teens out. Powell’s in Portland.

What do you look for in a reading experience?

I just want to be entertained.

How do you arrange your bookshelf?

I don’t.

Have you ever lied about having read a book? If so, which one?

I haven’t, because people will find you out. Also, when I haven’t read a book it’s because I haven’t gotten around to it, haven’t heard of it, or don’t care to read it, and I think all of those are perfectly honorable positions.