HomeCultureBooksMeet the Author

Ursula Villarreal-Moura: Books That Changed My Life

3 min read

Ursula Villarreal-Moura: Books That Changed My Life
Pushcart-Prize nominated author Ursula Villarreal-Moura, whose debut novel Like Happiness is out now, reveals her favourite books

Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver

Say Goodnight Gracie
This was my all-time favourite book when I was 12. I don’t know how I came across this novel as a child. Perhaps I saw it at the library or in a friend’s cubbyhole at school. As a young person, I remember thinking the cover was so dreamy, romantic, even sophisticated. To be fair, I still consider the cover evocative, particularly for a children’s book. 
"I remember thinking the cover was so dreamy, romantic, even sophisticated"
When I was working as a bookseller, I decided I wanted a new copy because mine was becoming brittle. Naturally, I was afraid to revisit the book as an adult. When I reread it in 2018, I was struck all over again by this achingly good story about friendship and loss. All the details about Chicago and the malaise of losing a friend came rushing back. In a way, I think my novel Like Happiness is a twisted adult version of Say Goodnight, Gracie. In fact, the protagonist of my novel is also a fan of this Deaver novel. It’s her gateway into falling in love with reading. Of all the books that I’ve ever read, Say Goodnight, Gracie is probably the most influential.

Robinson by Muriel Spark

I’ve been a Muriel Spark fan since middle school when I was assigned The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Since then, I’ve been trying to space out the rest of her novels. Some years I read two, other years none.
I read Robinson during the pandemic. It’s such an astounding novel. Robinson is about plane crash survivors on a remote island, but it's also sort of a mystery. Among the many compelling elements are a mountain that screams, a cat that plays ping pong, many Catholics with conflicting ideas about women, and a quick-witted protagonist named January. These sound like lyrics to a Tori Amos song, but if you like Tori Amos chances are you'll enjoy the novels of Muriel Spark.
"It ties together so many odd but delicious elements"
While all of Spark’s novels are magical in their own way, I love Robinson because it ties together so many odd but delicious elements. I’d like to think that my story collection Math for the Self-Crippling has some of Spark’s whimsy and playfulness. I look forward to growing old with Robinson and rereading it, as well as the rest of Spark’s oeuvre. 

Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño

Last Evenings on Earth
I bought this book at what was then-called Labyrinth Books in New York City but is now called Book Culture. The dynamic black, neon green, and white colour combination drew me to the cover. It felt so moody and Latin American. The book remained in my to-read pile until a vacation I took with family to Brazil in 2015. It worked out perfectly that I discovered my love for Bolaño in a bungalow in South America.
"What is there to say about Bolaño or these stories other than they are brilliant and bizarre, witty, and timeless"
What is there to say about Bolaño or these stories other than they are brilliant and bizarre, witty, and timeless. I’ve now reread this book multiple times. My favourites in the collection are “Gómez Palacio,” “Phone Calls,” “Sensini” and “Mauricio ('The Eye') Silva.” I love Bolaño’s gritty, poetic characters who strive to be true artists.
Bolaño and I are both interested in writers and artists, their lives, and what it means to be a reader. Our approaches to the topic differ but I find his take so interesting. Just as I’m spacing out Muriel Spark’s remaining books, I am also rationing my Bolaño books. This year I haven’t read any, so next year I’ll be able to read two or three that are new to me. 
Like Happiness
Like Happiness by Ursula Villarreal-Moura is out now with One, an imprint of Pushkin Press
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter