This morning, another slicer reminded me of the delights of the “By the Book” column in the Sunday Times, and I spent a happy half hour catching up on interviews I’d missed over the past few months. I decided to interview myself about my own bookish life.
What books are on your nightstand?
There’s always a stack because I read more than one book at a time and have a habit of starting a new book whenever I need a little mood boost at the end of a long day, which is often. Sometimes the stack gets out of control, as I add more books and neglect to take any away that I’m definitely not reading. Right now, I’m actually reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, Shaun Bythell’s Chronicles of a Bookseller, and I got 60 pages into TJ Klune’s The House by the Cerulean Sea last night (though I’m not convinced I’m sticking with it; I’m finding it mannered and overwritten). I’m just a few pages into Melissa Febos’s Body Work, Weike Wang’s Joan Is Okay, and P. Djeli Clark’s Ring Shout (too exciting for bedtime reading). I started Emily Dickinson’s Garden and Henry Adams’s Democracy and a reread of Marie Phillips’s Gods Behaving Badly months ago and never made progress because I kept starting new things. Just in case books I haven’t started yet but might: a reread of Wide Sargasso Sea, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Light Years, Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, Jenny Offill’s Weather, and Rachel Ingalls’s Mrs Caliban.
What is the last great book you read?
So far 2022 has been a good reading year, and I’ve really enjoyed nearly everything I’ve read. The last book I read that I consider great was back in January: Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies.
Are there any classic novels you only recently read for the first time?
Not a novel, but I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X all the way through for the first time in the fall, and it’s most definitely now on my short list of books everyone should read in their lifetimes. (Do I know what other books would be on that short list? Not at all.)
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s was published in a Virago edition and is now available from Bloomsbury Group, so it’s not like it’s completely unheard of. But I think it’s still obscure. Ferguson confessed to a friend as she was writing it, “It’s getting so odd that I’m rather frightened of it,” and it’s certainly eccentric–as well as hard to describe. It’s about the Carne family and their complex imaginative “sagas.” Their dinner conversations are a madcap blend of the real and the fantastical as they weave fictions about their dog, a beloved childhood doll, and real people, alive and dead (including the Brontes who, yes, shop at Woolworth’s) into stories about what happened to them that day. The family’s rich imaginative life becomes even more complicated when the oldest sister, Deirdre, meets two of the characters from their saga–real people they’ve created all kinds of fictions about–and begins to develop a friendship with them. It’s witty and weird and a book I hesitate to recommend because it’s not for everyone. But I love it so much.
How do you organize your books?
Badly. But also by genre–except for one bookshelf that has a very narrow shelf that must be organized by size since I don’t have many books small enough to fit on it. My favorite shelf is my rereading shelf–a collection of books I’d like to reread at some point. Whenever I’m in a reading slump or need a comfort read, I can instantly find something that appeals. (And here is The Brontes Went to Woolworths, ready to be reread.)
Describe your ideal reading experience.
Anytime I can fall into a book and not want to leave is the ideal reading experience–especially these days when my attention feels so fractured. I like reading on trains, and I love reading on vacation, especially a vacation that involves an ocean view and a comfortable chair and everyone else otherwise occupied.
What do you plan to read next?
Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia; some of the many books on my nightstand; and now, The Brontes Went to Woolworth’s.
My theme for Slice of Life 2022 is finding inspiration in the writing of others. Each day I plan to find my slice in someone else’s words or forms. Today, I’m borrowing Jill’s “By the Book” interview at One Blessed Block.