I don't indulge many of these surveys on social media but, since this site actually has a subject we all take interest in, this quiz seemed more interesting to me. More like one of those short magazine features than random notes about people. Plus, unlike FB, I don't know anyone here IRL so it is more revealing. H/t BrokenTune on getting it to my eyes, and apparently Bookloving Writer for starting it.
1. What book is on your nightstand now?
Singular? HA! Primarily it's Zone One by Colson Whitehead, though it is sharing space with Native Son by Chang-Rae Lee and Hemingway's short stories which I've been chipping away at between other books and moments where I just want a complete experience in one sitting. I also keep a lot of my poetry in my nightstand and regularly reach into there. Recently I have been picking Charles Bukowski out a lot.
2. What was the last truly great book that you read?
I recently read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage both of which I think are great, but the last one that really floored me was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Her writing is always sharp and brought to one of the most basic human experiences, grief, it cut especially deep.
3. If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?
I've wrestled with this question before since writing and personality are such different things, in fact I worry that some of the reputedly larger personalities would be off-putting to me either because of the aspect of performance or just because it would kind of cheapen the thoughtfulness that I know from their writing. Zadie Smith seems my speed. I've heard her speak before and she came across just as thoughtful and interesting as she is on the page and she seems mostly uninterested in being a personality. I feel it would be a real conversation and what could be more rewarding than that?
4. What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories my books generally have more, you know, WRITING, but I found the little flash pieces and illustrations cathartic.
5. How do you organize your personal library?
First I split fiction and nonfiction, then group it in a loosely chronological order, so like all the Fitzgerald books are together in the 20s and before Hemingway despite the particular release date of any given book. The contemporary works are more strictly chronological since there are more in a shorter frame. There are some pullouts, I have a James Joyce shelf, another for old looking books and a whole shelf of TBR. Also one section of small books I can fit in a coat pocket to grab when I go for a walk.
6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?
Most books in the canon probably! If there was something I felt that strongly about I'd just go for it but I have not read any Dostoevsky yet and I have two of his books so that. Also The Road by Cormac McCarthy has just been this big part of the larger literary conversation for a while, it comes up a lot on interviews like this and I feel I ought to be a part of that.
7. Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn't? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I just put down a book about the drinking habits of the presidents. It wasn't drawing a narrative it just seemed to be a collection of random drinking references for each president, but I got it as a gift and probably just because it had a cool title. I will say I thought Rabbit, Run was really weird. Updike writes really well and I loved his short stories, but the plot was just weird, especially when he ran from the funeral, I just thought, yeah, he was going pretty literal with the title there.
8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?
Difficulty. If it has a reputation of people not finishing it I'm into it. It is a challenge and I think reading is best when it is a challenge. I read a lot of books just for enjoyment too, it would be exhausting to launch from masterpiece to masterpiece, but the people, the stories, the experiences that really change your life are the ones you invest time and effort and emotion.
9. If you could require the prime minister to read one book, what would it be?
Can I say president? Is everyone else here British? I would say George Saunders. He seems to make it a point to break down expectations, to make you sympathize with characters you don't like. He kind of breaks down the idea of a happy ending, the story structure is there but there is this kind of darkness that there is no destiny and things don't all get resolved with a nice bow. His stories are among the most directly empathetic I think. More classic works I think people can be stubborn enough to pull the wrong message from.
10. What do you plan to read next?
I just took a job at a nonprofit providing information and resources to women with breast cancer so I wanted to pick up The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and I'll be throwing myself into the subject, I always take responsibility for really getting to know my subject as much as I can.