Sunday, October 08, 2006


Right, so the books. Let's get to it.

1. One book that's changed your life
You sort of want to go back to your first, great childhood book obsessions. Anne of Green Gables, say. Madeleine L'Engle. My brief but pronounced period of paganism after reading the Mists of Avalon at age 11 (I sat in Mass praising the Goddess under my breath). But for satisfying cause-and-effect, I'll name a poem instead of a book, and that's Anna Akhmatova's Requiem. From there it was a straight line to the rest of Russian literature, history, then language, then politics, and next thing I know I've spent a year in Georgia—birthplace of Stalin, destroyer of Akhmatova's family. Well, one doesn't start into Russian with an eye on happy serendipities.

2. One book that you have read more than once
Michael Cunningham "The Hours". Before there was a movie. I was so enraptured by his prose that I picked up a few of his other books, and none of them did a thing for me. But this one slays.

3. One book you would want on a desert island.
Physicians desk reference. Hollowed out. Inside—waterproof matches, iodine tablets, beet seeds, protein bars, NASA blanket and, in case I get bored, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. No, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

[But seriously? Probably some Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One in particular seems appropriate for the circumstances.]

4. One book that made you cry.
Where the Red Fern Grows. A more interesting question would be: what book made you accidentally throw up on yourself? And the answer to that would be Isaac Babel's Collected Stories. I'm not being cutesy or metaphoric. This incident involves a nasty bout of bronchitis and a Goonie's impersonation but we can save that story for another time.

5. One book that made you laugh.
Confederacy of Dunces; it's been said before, but I have to agree.

6. One book you wish had been written.
My former colleague and friend is a Russian emigre and her mother survived the Great Patriotic War, the blockade of Leningrad, and escaped the blockade across the iced-over "road of life" only to learn that she'd lost a brother years before to Stalin's purges. She wrote her memoirs, and my colleague stubbornly and inexplicably denies my constant pleas to translate them into English. I wish she would.

7. One book you wish had never been written.
Oh, The Kite Runner can suck it and so can everybody who recommended that garbage to me.

8. One book you are currently reading.
I assume a copies of my syllabi wouldn't be too revealing. Time permitting, I supplement the grad school reading regimen with a re-read of a collection of Vaclav Havel's essays, "Living in Truth." Started it up again with this torture business looming in my mind.

9. One book you've been meaning to read.
The Adventures of Augie March. Martin Amis calls it the Great American Novel, so one of these days...


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