What books are on your nightstand?
“The Eighth Life (for Brilka),” by Nino Haratischvili, translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin.
“Tideline,” by Krystyna Dabrowska, translated by Karen Kovacik, Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Mira Rosenthal.
“The Dirt on Pigpen,” by Charles M. Schulz.
What was the last great book you read?
Adrienne Rich’s “Blood, Bread, and Poetry” – that is, the essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.”
What book should everyone read before the age of 21?
To me, “Does this book seem like it could change my life” is a better question than “Is this a book that everyone should read.” I invite people under the age of 21 to think of the world as a treasure hunt for life-changing books, with signs everywhere – in other books, on the subway, in The New York Times maybe – then read as many of them as possible. . Size is important, because books are products of their time and place, and the bitter emotions of time are baked into them.
What book should not be read by anyone until the age of 40?
The only reading experience I’ve had after 40 that I thought I couldn’t have before is reading again. Like re-reading “The Portrait of a Lady” at 40, and it appears that the closest thing is Madame Merle. In my 20s, I saw Madame Merle as a characterless, “bad guy” who lived only to mess with Isabel. Now I can see both readings at once, like face painting.
I think Proust will be better after 30. In college, I couldn’t go the route of “Swann’s Way,” or any “small” book about childhood. I can’t understand why anyone would consider such a boring and depressing time in life. Now, after years of therapy, I can re-read “Swann’s Way” and see in detail what I could not face as a child.
Your first book, “The Possessed,” is a memoir of your love of Russian literature. Did you save, and who is your current favorite?
I have two ideas for new Russian books in translation: “In Memory of Memory,” by Maria Stepanova, and “Living Pictures” (forthcoming), by Polina Barskova.
I’ve had some really great experiences re-reading 19th century favorites. After #MeToo, for example, I re-read “Eugene Onegin” and “Anna Karenina” and, although possible When I saw everything I loved about those books in my youth, I also saw a message I had never heard before: Something like, “A good story about a young woman who ruins her life over an unintelligent man.” Where did those messages lead me?
What do you read when you create a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
I look for books that address the issues I wrestle with in my own work. When I was younger, I struggled a lot with anger, and anxiety. I will experience fear and hope, because there is no escape. For some reason, those feelings melted away when I read Haruki Murakami. I must have read “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” about 10 times.
Today, I work more against the idea of being swayed by evidence and opinion. Books that challenged that idea for me were Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, and Sheila Heti’s “Pure Color.”
Your first novel, “The Idiot,” followed its protagonist during his first year at Harvard. Your new single, “Either/Or,” follows it again, now in its second year. What other novels do you recommend?
Kazuo Ishiguro “Don’t Let Me Go.” It’s about an English boarding school where everyone is doing all these amazing arts, but something is weird, and you slowly realize that all the students are human clones, and their characters are being picked off. body after graduation. You can read it as a dark metaphor for all of liberal arts education. I thought about this when I wrote “Either/Or.” The narrator realizes that he lives in a fun bubble where he spends four years cultivating his intelligence and his special nature – but there is a fear that there is none of it. because After all, Harry Potter is only temporary, and soon everyone will be out and their bodies will be “harvested” to serve biological or economic purposes.
What are your favorite fictional characters?
Part 2 of “Don Quixote”; Proust’s “Time Again”; Elena Ferrante “Those who leave and those who stay” (the third Neapolitan series).
I love how the sequel doesn’t continue the events from the first book, but builds on that book’s existence as something in the world. By the time Cervantes published part 2 of “Don Quixote,” part 1 was so popular that one of Cervantes’ enemies had already published a parody novel. In Part 2, Quixote and Sancho try to deny the fate of deceit, and usually about the consequences of fame.
Ferrante’s “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” is set in the midst of the political turmoil of 1968, with Elena publishing her first autobiographical novel about a troubled youth. I read “Those Who Leave” again in the first months of the Trump presidency, when I was pregnant. my First story about a tragic young man. That’s when I decided to write a sequel.
Has a book brought you closer to another person, or between you?
My friend’s favorite book is “Middlemarch.” When we met, I didn’t remember “Middlemarch,” so I decided to read it again. It’s so fun to explore what this lover loved in his 20s – it’s almost like traveling with his younger self. A couple of times, I read the verses that really resonated with him. Later, my boyfriend found his old copy of “Middlemarch,” and it turned out that he had underlined the exact same verses I mentioned!
What topics do you wish writers would write more about?
I wish more books were written with the goal of reducing shame, especially shame about childhood. I think shame is a huge problem in public health.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which books and authors connect with you?
Another book I keep thinking about is “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” by EL Konigsburg, in which two schoolgirls run away from home and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. . It is the perfect idea of independent life that can be achieved by children. Sometimes, if I don’t experience the magic of New York City, I can remember that book and call out what the city meant to me that year.
What book would surprise people to find on your shelves?
People may be surprised to see a shelf with nothing on it except a copy of Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I read that book in 2016 and it really changed my life! I was able to release a lot of shame and self-loathing that had been bottled up in my collection. (This means learning to throw things away without hating myself for wasting it and being disrespectful.) Eventually, I was able to enjoy and appreciate my places.
How do you organize your books?
I’m about to say that I have so few physical books now that I don’t need to organize them. Then I checked the library and found Boris Eikhenbaum’s “Tolstoi in the Sixties” closely related to Boris Eikhenbaum’s “Tolstoi in the Seventies”, and Shulamith Firestone’s “Airless Spaces” in page of Edith Wharton’s “The Decor of Houses.” First? Maybe, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that “I Love Dick” doesn’t belong next to “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking.”
What do you want to read next?
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, I’ve begun another round of re-reading and rethinking 19th-century Russian poetry – this time, as a form of their support for the “idea of government.” Next: Pushkin’s “A Journey to Arzrum,” Dostoyevsky’s “House of the Dead,” Tolstoy’s “Hadji Murat” and Edyta M. Bojanowska’s “Nikolai Gogol: Between Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism.”
Describe your best reading experience (when, where, how, how).
Read a story in bed before falling asleep. I love reading in the dark, e-reading is possible. Sometimes, I can fall asleep while reading. That’s when I knew I was living the dream.