Do you think that some canonical books are largely misunderstood?
“Ulysses” is said to be difficult and, in truth, there are tedious parts. And problematic parts. But if we approach it with irreverence, we can feel the living force of an extraordinary and particular spirit at work. Take what you want, don’t be too precious. His daring grants a writer all kinds of permissions. As Anne Enright said, Joyce “opened all windows and doors.”
What touches you most about a literary work?
When a book seems urgent, what happens if I feel like the writer is trying to find something, or discover something, in the writing. And when something familiar is described with such precision that it becomes foreign to it, and I am able to see it with clarity and depth. The amazing experience of recognition and involvement at the same time. A writing that resists easy reductions and clichÃ©s of language and thought. One of my favorite things is laughing at a joke in a really old book: I feel such a connection with the human who made it, which thrills me and moves me. If you can write a joke that’s still funny 100 years from now, you are awesome.
Do you prefer books that touch you emotionally or intellectually?
The older I get, the more complicated this question becomes. I need to feel the life and energy of the writer in the book. It can be a surprising twist in a sentence, a mysterious escalation in form, a peculiarity of voice. A character revising an idea about the world through a crucial moment of disturbance. Even a daring failure. It all registers as emotional for me.
What genres do you particularly like to read? And what do you avoid?
Honestly, I have very little patience for sci-fi, but as my daughter says, âIt’s a problem for you, mom.
How do you organize your books?
By size! I keep all the oversized books in the living room shelves, just like my parents, aunts and uncles used to do. While the adults were talking, we children were encouraged to look at the art books. In my case, my living room books are mostly art books, but not only: everything from Whole Earth catalogs to “The Book of Wonders”, a charming and inaccurate 1916 encyclopedia, to “New York Times Great Lives of the Century â(which is huge and contains obituaries of famous people reprinted as they appeared in the newspaper) toâ Assassination! Â», A picture book of Lego reconstructions of famous assassination attempts. I try to be the weird aunt.
Besides Lego, what other books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I collect interior design and decorating books from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Better Homes and Gardens collections, kitchens with avocado green appliances, bright yellow laminate countertops, macrame plants.
What is the best book you have ever received as a gift?
My English teacher, Jim Hosney, gave me part of John Dos Passos’ Grade 12 âThe Big Money,â and it forever changed my idea of ââwhat novels could be or do. It was a gift, one of many from this teacher.
What do you plan to read next?
“Mister Toebones” by Brooks Haxton, “Always Crashing in the Same Car” by Matthew Specktor, “All’s Well” by Mona Awad, “The Committed” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Life of the Mind” by Christine Smallwood, “Now Beacon, Now âby Christopher Sorrentino. Sea â,â Stranger Faces âby Namwali Serpell,â Night Rooms âby Gina Nutt andâ My Ãntonia âby Willa Cather.