Zadie Smith: 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. 17, 2016

The author, most recently, of “Swing Time” says the best gift book she ever received was from her dying father, who “gave me his copy of ‘Ulysses,’ along with the confession he had never read it.”

What books are on your night stand now?

I’m on a reading jag after a long period of only writing, so there’s a towering “to read” pile: “Sudden Death,” by Álvaro Enrigue; “Using Life,” a novel by the imprisoned Egyptian Ahmed Naje; “Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi; “Heroes of the Frontier,” by Dave Eggers; “The Underground Railroad,” by Colson Whitehead; “Diary of the Fall,” by Michel Laub; “The Good Immigrant,” edited by Nikesh Shukla; “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson; “Birth of a Bridge,” by Maylis de Kerangal; “Known and Strange Things,” by Teju Cole; “The Little Communist Who Never Smiled,” by Lola Lafon; “The Fire This Time,” edited by Jesmyn Ward; “At the Existentialist Café,” by Sarah Bakewell; “Time Reborn,” by Lee Smolin; “Moonglow,” by Michael Chabon; and let’s say the last four or five novels by Marías, several by Krasznahorkai, and — as always — unfinished Proust. I much prefer reading to writing: I can’t wait.

What’s the last great book you read?

I’ve been unusually lucky recently; I’ve read quite a few. Obviously the final volume of Ferrante, then Ottessa Moshfegh’s razor-sharp short stories “Homesick for Another World,” and Alexandra Kleeman’s stunning “You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine.” I tore through two volumes of “The Arab of the Future,” by Riad Sattouf — it’s the most enjoyable graphic novel I’ve read in a while. I was moved, agitated and inspired by Kathleen Collins’s rediscovered “Whatever Happened to Interracial Love”; Hisham Matar’s “The Return”; an early manuscript of Hari Kunzru’s “White Tears”; and Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Here I Am.” I’ve been meaning to read Dana Spiotta for years, and I’m so glad I finally did: “Innocents and Others” is terrific. John Berger’s “Portraits” is among the greatest books on art I’ve ever read. I had a sort of spiritual experience with it. No, let’s not be coy — I did! It was totally spiritual! But if I have to choose only one, then it’s “Lincoln in the Bardo,” by George Saunders. A masterpiece.

Tell us about your favorite overlooked or underheralded writer.

A Jamaican writer called Andrew Salkey, who wrote a Y.A. novel called “Hurricane” before Y.A. was a term. I remember it as the book that made me want to write. He was the most wonderful writer for children. I just found what looks to be a sequel, “Earthquake,” on an old-books stall on West Third, and I intend to read it to my kids. He died in 1995.

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Anna Kendrick: 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 >Dec. 1, 2016

The actress, singer and author of “Scrappy Little Nobody” would love to be a bath reader, “but the Parisian charm wears off after five minutes, and then I just want to be dry.”

anna-kendrick-15944What books are currently on your night stand?

Taraji P. Henson’s memoir, “Around the Way Girl.” I was a little sneaky and asked my editor to get me a copy before it came out. I’m only a chapter in and I already love it.

Do you read self-help? What’s your favorite self-help book of all time?

I don’t read a lot of self-help books, but I buy a lot of them. I usually give up when the first chapter hasn’t magically transformed me into someone wonderful. The one exception is Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.” It should be required reading for all women, and men for that matter. Maybe men would then get why we reject their advances in poorly lit parking lots — it’s not because we’re bitches, it’s because we don’t want to get murdered.

How and when do you read? Electronic or paper? Bath or bed?

I prefer paper. I wish I could claim that’s because I’m so delightfully old-fashioned, but it’s just because I keep forgetting how to use my electronic reader — wherever that thing is. I would also love to be a bath reader, but the Parisian charm wears off after five minutes, and then I just want to be dry.

How do you prefer to organize your books?

I put the most impressive ones where people are most likely to see them, AMIRITE?! (No, but I do do that.)

What do you like to read on the plane? On the set? On vacation?

On a plane I like to read something light and fluffy to counteract flying anxiety. On set, reading nonfiction is especially fun, because I get to share little factoids between takes (whether my co-workers like it or not). On vacation, I like books that are dark and engrossing, like “All Quiet on the Western Front” or Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” because the beach makes me feel too content and I don’t like it.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations.” I kind of thrive on stress, so I’m almost embarrassed by how comforting I find this book. I don’t even agree with everything in it, but when philosophy is described in such practical language, it’s soothing.

The best book you’ve read about Hollywood?

“Writing Movies for Fun and Profit,” by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, is hilarious, but more than that, it’s insanely accurate — right down to what your parking assignment when visiting a studio “really” means.

What’s the last book that made you laugh out loud?

There’s a joke in “Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships,” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, about the commonly held belief that women choose their sexual partners based on a man’s ability to “provide.” Essentially the punch line is that Darwin thinks your mother is a whore. Anyway, the patriarchy, good stuff.

The last book you read that made you furious?

I only read “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood, very recently. On the night of the first presidential debate, Patton Oswalt tweeted, “We’re moments away from the prequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’” and I think I messaged him, “O.K., that is not funny!”

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

More serious than I am now. The year I turned 12, I read “The Crucible,” “Jane Eyre” and “The Great Gatsby,” and after I finished each one I was beside myself with rage. Abigail Williams and Daisy Buchanan never get their comeuppance, and Jane never gets to go off (Jerry Springer style) on the Reed family? I’m still mad about it.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

“A History of the Wife,” by Marilyn Yalom. It’s one of those books that I read with a highlighter in hand, because there was so much great information in it. Maybe plenty of people already know all of this stuff, but it definitely wasn’t covered in my history classes.

If you could befriend any author, dead or alive, who would it be?

Steve Martin.

anna-kendrickWhom would you want to write your life story?

Jon Ronson. “The Psychopath Test” and “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” were both a great balance of horrifying and fun. However, the people he writes about are subjected to this super-perceptive honesty that I might not survive, so as long as this is my fantasy, I’d prefer he wait until I’m dead.

What do you want to read next?

My brother keeps going on about “Ready Player One,” by Ernest Cline, so I think I’d better read it before the holidays or I’ll end up in a headlock.


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.