What books are currently on your nightstand?
I don’t actually have a night stand but I just finished reading Shirley Jackson’s last novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’m currently embroiled in The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, along with Being Mortal by Atul Gawunde on audio. I also like to mix in some short stories here and there.
What are your favorite books of all time?
My favorite books are always changing. But some of my perennial favorites are: The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, Pale Fire by Nabokov, The Cider House Rules by Irving, Dubliners by Joyce, David Copperfield by Dickens, World’s End by Boyle; some recent additions are The Patrick Melrose Novels by St. Aubyn, Darkness at Noon by Koestler, and The War at the End of the World by Llosa.
You’ve professed your love for the short story form in the past. Who are some of your favorite short story writers and why?
Yes I truly enjoy a good short story, although I feel the art is waning a bit. Some of my best loved short subject crafters include: E.A. Poe, just because he was such a proponent of short fiction. Stories like The Tell-Tale Heart lodged themselves into one’s unconscious for life: Alice Munro, because of the mastery she exhibits of her subject’s inner life; the funny and dark T.C. Boyle has a way of placing quirky people in extraordinary situations and making it seem normal.
Besides short stories , do you have any other favorite genres?
Chiefly I read literary fiction and tend to the dark side of things, but in the genre department I stray toward the Sci-Fi and Fantasy realm mostly. I’m a huge fan of George R.R. Martin right now and I love the genre edged Vonnegut and Lethem stuff like Slaughterhouse-5 or Gun With Occasional Music. Horror is another big one for me with Stephen King taking high honors, although Shirley Jackson is looking pretty good of late especially just after reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle; her short classic, The Lottery, is one of those tales that you just can’t erase from memory. I also enjoy a good reference volume now and again.
Being a self proclaimed book critic, are there any other critics whom you admire?
Maureen Corrigan comes immediately to mind. The NPR book critic is pleasing to read or to listen to on the Fresh Air program hosted by Terry Gross. I also enjoy David Denby in The New Yorker, The television critic David Bianculli also from NPR and his own website, tvworthwatching.com, and of course the inimitable Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who is always very informed and insightful.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
James Joyce, Philip Roth, and Zadie Smith. I’ve always been about diversity and I think each artist could learn from the other.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read?
So, so many. The Odyssey and The Illiad are two right off the top of my head. I’ve never read The Canterbury Tales, Don Quixote, or Middlemarch. I do have Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die as a reference and have made a conscious effort to read many from that list, but alas: “so many books…”, you know the rest.
What do you plan to read next?
I like to keep my options open but it looks like I’ll be tackling the latest historical chronicle by the always interesting Hampton Sides called In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette and, on audio, The Martian by Andy Weir.