The book I am currently reading
I’m a promiscuous and unstable reader. I toss books aside, stack them against the wall, box them up and exile them to the attic. But, boy, these books give as good as they get! They proliferate, they leer, they mock and oppress, they escape the attic, they come crashing down. Then there are those books I agree with, and that agree with me. The books given pride of place, the ones bought in multiple editions or because they have different covers. Here are three recent additions to that better class of books, all story collections: Saïd Sayrafiezadeh’s American Estrangement, Alix Ohlin’s We Want What We Want and Rachel Rose’s The Octopus Has Three Hearts.
The book that changed my life
John Gray’s The Silence of Animals. He is a humane and literate iconoclast. His far-ranging surveys of life and literature do not deliver good news, exactly, but they are delivered calmly and serve as correctives to the many different kinds of human propaganda that can drive a person insane. He was just the tonic I needed to get through a time of profound grief.
The book I wish I’d written
Too many to count, too humbling to list, and subject to change without notice.
The last book that made me laugh
The Diary of Samuel Pepys. As an eyewitness to the Restoration, the great fire of London, the bubonic plague and the second Anglo-Dutch war, Pepys teems with inner and outer life, and refuses to lie or flatter himself. It is the fullest account of a man’s life I know, constantly eliminating, in spite of the changed mores, the many centuries that separate him from us.
The book that had the greatest influence on my writing
Oh, there were different phases, I suppose, and eras of obsession, but at some point I gave up trying to be them and got down to the business of being myself, for worse or better.
Summer reading – Review magazine 5th June 2021
Summer reading: the 50 hottest new books everyone should read
The book I think is most over or underrated
“Snowballs have flown their Arcs, starr’d the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, [and] carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware …” So begins Thomas Pynchon’s woefully undersung Mason & Dixon, one of my favourite books.
The book that changed my mind
It is the mind that changes on books I find more fascinating. Why, at 20, did I fling A House for Mr Biswas across the room, where it sat unfinished for 10 years, only to pick it up at 30, devour it practically in one sitting, and think it as near to perfect as a book gets? Some version of this happened also with King Lear, Pale Fire, Memoirs of Hadrian, A Room of One’s Own, The Red and the Black, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror and Alice Munro.
The last book that made me cry
Miriam Toews’s Fight Night. It took only a line or two to be reminded of why I read fiction and why I write it. Toews doesn’t simply narrate a story; she fashions a world.
The book I give as a gift
Endless Love by Scott Spencer. This tragic love story is really a portrait of insanity, and its prose style is equal in precision and beauty to that of all the dead masters.
My earliest reading memory
My father, lying next to me, reading William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.