Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Mind if I tag along?

Kelly Jane Torrance (one of the few people ever to call me a litterateur) passed this on to me. I'm going to answer as swiftly as possible, because if I start having second thoughts, this could take all day. Here we go!

1. One book that changed your life?

Oh, that's easy: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, which I read when I was eight years old. Prior to that I had never really immersed myself in the imaginative world of a book--even my favorite Hardy Boys novels, like The Mystery of the Old Mill, seemed slightly ersatz. But Johnny Tremain swallowed me up. I read the second half while we were on a family vacation, and in a motel overlooking the Little Pigeon River in Tennessee, while I was pondering the molten silver that had spilled onto Johnny's hand, I walked smack into a sliding glass door. No permanent injuries.

2. One book that you have read more than once?

I've read many books more than once. A good example would be Morte D'Urban by J.F. Powers, with its quicksilver alternation of pathos and ecclesiastical comedy. On the other hand, I'm afraid I've spent nearly as much time with Hank Bordowitz's Bad Moon Rising: The Unofficial History of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Once a geek, always a geek--but clearly something about John Fogerty's crash-and-burn cycle got under my skin.

3. One book you would want on a desert island?

A long one, needless to say, so I'll choose The Divine Comedy. I'd like a version with facing text in Italian, so I could really brush up on those subjunctive constructions. Or maybe a complete Shakespeare. Or maybe Johnny Tremain.

4. One book that made you cry?

These days I'm more prone to cry when reading, as if the tears of things are always on tap. One example that comes to mind is Michael Downing's vastly underrated Perfect Agreement. Also, this passage from W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants, which I suppose will mean nothing out of context: "Three quarters of an hour later, not wanting to miss the landscape around Lake Geneva, which never fails to astound me as it opens out, I was just laying aside a Lausanne paper I'd bought in Zurich when my eye was caught by a report that said the remains of the Bernese guide Johannes Naegeli, missing since summer 1914, had been released by the Oberaar glacier, seventy-two years later. And so they are ever returning to us, the dead."

5. One book that made you laugh?

Anything by Charles Portis. Molloy. Parts of Tristram Shandy. Ian Frazier's stuff in a collection like Coyote v. Acme. And Dead Souls.

6. One book you wish had been written?

The book Gogol was working on after Dead Souls.

7. One book you wish had never been written?

That's a mean-spirited little question, isn't it? Oh, wait--Mein Kampf.

8. One book you are reading currently?

Twentieth-Century German Poetry: An Anthology, which FSG will publish in December. The editor, Michael Hofmann, is himself one of the best translators on the planet. And his introduction has pointed me toward some tremendous discoveries, including Gottfried Benn, whose "extraordinary, inspissated jargon-glooms" the editor considers almost translation-proof. Luckily that didn't stop Hoffman, Michael Hamburger, or Christopher Middleton from trying.

9. One book you have been meaning to read?

Middlemarch. Soon, soon!

10. Pass it on:

Let's try the formidably bookish Patrick Kurp at Anecdotal Evidence. (Whoops: Patrick already did it. Maybe I'll try Bud Parr at Chekhov's Mistress. Bud?)

Two of the other bloggers Ms Torrance tagged had already responded to this "one-book meme":

Terry Teachout

Frank Wilson

And here's Patrick Kurp's response:

Patrick Kurp
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