“手不释卷”之阿摩斯·奥茨

Amos Oz: By the Book

【野马絮语】《纽约时报》(The New York Times)“书评栏目”(Book Review)里的一个非常有意思的专栏“手不释卷”(By the Book:Writers on literature and literary life)。每期一位知名作家谈文学、阅读及其创作生涯。转载于此。分享给不便翻墙的文学爱好者们。

原文见:The New York Times >Nov. 23, 2016

The Israeli author, whose most recent novel is “Judas,” would like to meet Chekhov, if only to gossip with him. Gossip, after all, is “a distant cousin of stories and novels,” although they are “embarrassed by this member of their family.”

amos-ozTell us about some of your favorite writers.

You see, I don’t have a bookshelf with my eternal beloved ones on it. They come and go. A few of them come more often than the others: Chekhov, Cervantes, Faulkner, Agnon, Brener, Yizhar, Alterman, Bialik, Amichai, Lampedusa’s “Il Gattopardo,” Kafka and Borges, sometimes Thomas Mann and sometimes Elsa Morante and Natalia Ginzburg.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

The short answer is that when a work of literature suddenly makes the very familiar unfamiliar to me, or just the opposite, when a work of literature makes the unfamiliar almost intimately familiar, I am moved (moved to tears, or smiles, or anger, or gratitude, or many other, different, kinds of excitement).

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

Omnivorous, I read everything. Anything at all. I read the user’s manual of the electric heater, I read novels that were way above my grasp, I read poetry which could only offer me the music of its language while the meaning was still far from me. I read newspapers and magazines of all sorts, leaflets, ads, political manifestoes, dirty magazines, comics. Anything at all.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

Almost every good book changes me in a small way. But I may have not gathered the courage to send an early story to a literary editor were it not for what I learned from Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” and from Agnon’s “In the Prime of Her Life” and from M. Y. Berdyczewski’s short stories. “Winesburg, Ohio” taught me that sometimes the more provincial a story is, the more universal it may become. I wrote about these early literary epiphanies in “A Tale of Love and Darkness.”

What author, living or dead, would you most like to meet, and what would you like to know?

I would very much wish to spend half an hour with Anton Chekhov. I would buy him a drink. I would not discuss literary issues with him, not even bother to interview him or ask him for some useful tips, just chat about people. Even gossip with him. I love Chekhov’s unique blend of misanthropy and compassion. (And gossip — which is a mixture of both — is, after all, a distant cousin of stories and novels, although they don’t say hello to each other in the street, as novels and stories are embarrassed by this member of their family.)

What books are currently on your night stand?

A few weeks ago a beloved friend and colleague, the Israeli novelist A. B. Yehoshua lost his wife to an illness. Rivka Yehoshua was a leading psychoanalyst, and both of them were close friends for more than five decades. Thirty years ago, Yehoshua published “Five Seasons,” a wonderful novel about a delicate man losing his wife in the prime of their lives. “Five Seasons” describes the first year of the protagonist’s life as a widower. I am rereading it now with awe, in tears, and with admiration. I can’t help shuddering at the thought that rather often life imitates literature.

What are a few of the last great books you read?

I read “Lenin’s Kisses,” a fierce, funny, painful and playful novel by a great Chinese writer, Yan Lianke. It is much more than just a poignant, daring political parody: It is also a subtle study of evil and stupidity, misery and compassion. I reread Anita Shapira’s biography of David Ben-Gurion rediscovering the greatness of this founding father of Israel who, as early as the beginning of the 1930s, recognized the rise of Palestinian nationalism and its fierce resentment toward Zionism, and conducted a series of painstaking meetings with Palestinian leaders, trying in vain to formulate a far-reaching compromise between two legitimate national movements, both rightly claiming the same tiny homeland.

Who are some underappreciated or overlooked authors? Are there Israeli writers who aren’t as widely translated as they should be whom you’d recommend in particular?

Two great Israeli writers, S. Yizhar and Yehoshua Kenaz, are hardly known outside the realm of Hebrew. Yizhar’s work has an almost Joycean quality about it, while Kenaz at his heights makes you think of Marcel Proust.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

Recently, I’ve developed a growing addiction to well-written memoirs and biographies, whether they relate to artists, statesmen or failed eccentrics: “Stalin,” by Simon Sebag Montefiore; “Kafka,” by Reiner Stach; “Nikolai Gogol,” by Nabokov.

Do you have a favorite fictional hero or heroine? A favorite antihero or villain?

Don Quixote. The hero and the antihero of the first modern novel, which is also the first postmodern novel, and also the first deconstructionist novel. Don Quixote’s genes can be found in thousands and thousands of literary and cinematic figures created since. Maybe some of his genes are in every post-Quixotean human being.

amos-oz1If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? The Israeli prime minister?

Unfortunately, there are many political leaders in today’s world, including my country, who would pleasantly surprise me if they read any book at all. To President Obama I would give, as a farewell present, with admiration, my “Tale of Love and Darkness.” Prime Minister Netanyahu may perhaps benefit from reading “Richard III.”

Whom would you want to write your life story?

All my children are very fine writers. Any one of them could tell my story with the right blend of kinship, empathy and irony.

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