Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Books, Books, Books

I have been asked by a Facebook friend to respond to the following series of questions.

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Nelson Algren, whom I loved when I was younger but whose books have not aged well.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
I have two copies each of two favorite books, paper and hard, including Caine's Book by Alexander Trocchi, and The Disenchanted, by Budd Schulberg. The paperbacks are for thumbing; the hard get taken down only on special occasions.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
I teach undergraduate comp and have seen worse.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
None save my own when things go well.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?
Excluding drafts of my own work I would say Cain's Book, for the quality of prose.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Caps for Sale: a Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business, by Esphyr Slobodkina. My babysitters would read me this story of a peddler whose stock is taken hostage by a gang of m onkeys in a tree. It made a profound impression on me.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
The Road, Cormac McCarthy. It may have been more than a year ago, but my disgust lingers. McCarthy can write and I have loved some of his work, but if you ask me (you did, sort of) this is an egregiously simple-minded and even cartoony exercise in apocalyptic sentimentality served up in a prose style that all-too-perfectly suits it's subject: abominable.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
I very much liked a book called My Friends by Emmanuel Bove. Alas, it and he have both been entirely forgotten.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
I'd have to choose differently for each, wouldn't I?

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
I don't care.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
One that means little to me.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
One that means a great deal (but there's little fear of that).

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I once dreamt that a manuscript of mine was returned via UPS. I opened it up expecting the usual letter of rejection. Instead I found my own submission letter stamped with the phrase "GREAT ENOUGH" in big red block letters. An accompanying note from an editor explained that though my novel was neither great nor poor, it was great enough, and had therefore been accepted for publication.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
I've tried without success to read James Patterson, Dan Brown, et al. I usually get only a few pages into such books before I have to stop. It's not just the poor writing, but the utter lack of logic and hamfisted sensationalism. I don't get why anyone reads them. I've read some popular books that weren't so bad but I don't remember what they were. I remember enjoying Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Not lowbrow, really, but very popular. It doesn't hold up.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Finnegan's Wake--but I bailed after thirty pages.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
I don't recall--it was too obscure.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
French. Those Russians talk too much. Though Dead Souls is hard to resist. And then there's Lolita, but that's an American novel with a French plot written by a former Russian.

18) Roth or Updike?
Updike—when he's good. Though Roth is never as bad as Updike when Updike is bad.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Neither, if you must know.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

21) Austen or Eliot?

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Gaps, plural. Parade's End, Ford Maddox Ford (I've read the first novel); Proust (ditto).

23) What is your favorite novel?
It's like choosing among children. Can't be done. Shouldn't be done.

24) Play?
A toss-up between Streetcar and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but the latter mostly for sentimental reasons, since it was the work that turned me from painting to writing.

25) Poem?
The Observation Car, by A.E. Hope.

26) Essay?
Again, too many to choose from. But off the beaten path I'd go with How to Build a House, by Lawrence Durrell.

27) Short story?
A Distant Episode, Paul Bowles. I'm also very fond of Cheever's Goodbye, My Brother. All You Faceless Voyagers, Ivan Gold. These are pretty heavy tales. On a lighter note: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

28) Work of nonfiction?
The question is so broad--how can the answer be narrow? I just threw a dart and it landed on Father & Son, by Edmund Gosse.

29) Who is your favorite writer?
Used to be Algren. Now I love so many good writers. Bellow I've liked consistently. I don't think he could write a bad sentence. But more obscure writers like Ivan Gold and John Fante interest me more.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
There are quite a few of these, several of whom live in Brooklyn. And that's all I've got to say about that.

31) What is your desert island book?
Cain's Book. A purposefully, aggressively bad novel in superb prose by a man in rebellion against ambition in all its forms.

32) And... what are you reading right now?
Beautiful Losers, by Leonard Cohen


glass said...
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David A. Stevenson GRI said...

Hello from David A. Stevenson. I will be attending an event in downtown Bethel in a few minutes with Diane and your Mom.