The NYT’s By the Book column regularly interviews people of interest about their reading. I may not be a person of interest in any grand sense, but in the context of Eat Run Read, clearly I’m the central character! So here’s my interview.
What book is on your night stand now?
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Well, actually, it's in my purse right now...my books tend to travel with me through the day.
What was the last truly great book you read?
Ooooh, I’m still totally taken by The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I also keep recommending The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. And Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was soooo good too! (Clearly I’m not good at picking just one.)
Any literary genre you simply can’t be bothered with?
Mystery. I know people like mysteries because they like trying to figure it all out before the end. I just get impatient and want to finish the book asap so I know all the answers.
A young, aspiring Africa/conflict/international relations worker [insert career of choice] wants your advice on what to read. What books do you suggest?
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters by Jason Stearns (nonfiction, everything you need to know about conflict in the Congo, plus it’s really interesting and well-written)
Little Bee by Chris Cleave (fiction, this will break your heart and remind you why your work could matter)
What’s your favorite Shakespeare?
I think I’ve only read Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth and King Lear. I’ve seen most of the plays though – most recently "Two Gentleman of Verona."
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
I actually don’t have a very good answer…possibly All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren because it is about the corrosiveness of power and how dirty politicians are created by the system.
What was the last book that made you cry?
Hmmm it’s been a while. I think the last time was in January reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog – this part:
"They didn't recognize me," I say. I came to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk, complete flabbergasted. "They didn't recognize me," I repeat. He stops in turn, my hand still on his arm. "It is because they have never seen you," he says. "I would recognize you anywhere." (Renée and Mr. Ozu)
The last book that made you laugh?
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Faidman. It’s a serious non-fiction book, but some of the ridiculous parallels between the Hmong refugee experience and my own work with refugees really hit home.
The last book that made you furious?
This is a hard one. Probably Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, I mean, how could a book that is essentially an ode to a pedophile not make you mad?
Name a book you just couldn’t finish.
Nothing recently – I wish I’d stopped The Fountainhead but I didn’t. (The whole semi-masochistic endurance athlete thing tends to carry over to my reading…I will power though anything.)
What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?
Well my Young Adult Fiction Challenge kind of addresses this. "Child" is different from YA though, I especially remember loving (and reading MANY times) Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry. And literally everything by Marguerite Henry – Black Gold and Hold the Rein Free were my favorites.
What’s the best book your mother ever gave you to read?
This is hard to answer because my mama gives me most of the books I read. When I was 14 she handed me Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, which I LOVED (I think she forgot about the sex scenes, which were semi-scandalous to 14-year-old me.)
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
This is too hard. I can’t. I guess Shakespeare and I’d want to know if he actually wrote all the plays. Or maybe Jane Austin because as a woman author in the 1800s she was kind of a bad-ass. Actually, I take it all back, I'd meet Roald Dahl so he could tell me stories about his amazing life in person!
Have you ever written to an author? Did he or she write back?
Yep. Marguerite Henry. No response. :(
You’re organizing a literary dinner party and inviting three writers. Who’s on the list?
Azar Nafisi, Barbara Kingsolver, and Irene Nemerovsky. All women because I think women tend to be more readily open to discussions. They’re Iranian, American, and French/Jewish, and all from different(ish) times. They all seem interesting and interested and I imagine their conversation would be fascinating.
What’s the best movie based on a book you’ve seen recently?
Hunger Games. Sorry I’m not sorry.
What are you going to read next?
I don’t know…maybe Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It was my book club's book this month and I just didn't get to it. But I’m going home on Saturday, so hopefully the fam has some good books to send me back with.
Again, email me if you're interested in participating in By the Book! email@example.com