Questions Concerning Literature

I came across this and I decided to do it.

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Definitely Carol Shields – I own all of her novels (except the out-of-print Very Conventional Woman), her collected stories and Dressed Up for the Carnival.  It’s quite a collection I guess.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
I don’t have mulitple copies of many books, but I for some reason, have two copies of Salt Fish Girl by Larissa Lai.  There are books I want to re-purchase though, like the Guests of War Trilogy by Kit Pearson (and her other books – my copies are pretty banged up and dated).
3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not really.  A question’s a question.  I answered it.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Most of the novels I read are very centred on the world of women and domesticity, and it doesn’t happen often for me that a prominent and (VERY) memorable male character enters the book that I feel truly enamored with.  I do adore Holden Caufield though, and I think most girls in my vein would agree with me.  Another character I was fairly in love with was Gordon in Joseph Boyden’s latest novel Through Black Spruce.  He doesn’t talk but he has this great presence in the book – he’s strong and mysterious and scary and almost kind of spiritual.  Yet he does these funny and endearing things.  And he’s so good to Annie’s mother.  For some reason too, I was in love with Mr. Watts in Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.  He was such a wonderful person and wise and good and he used what he had to teach these fantastic life lessons to kids who knew nothing outside of what they ‘should’ know, I guess.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban.  I’ve read it at least ten or fifteen times.  It’s, I think, Rowling’s masterpiece of the series and I love it.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
When I was ten?  Good question and one I can’t answer because I didn’t really concentrate on books I loved and cared about until I was about 12.  For the sake of the question, I’ll say The Daring Game by Kit Pearson.  And when I was in grade six, my teacher read us what to me, is still one of the most poignant and wonderful children’s books ever written, When the Road Ends by Jean Thesman.  It stands in my memory as a moment of realization for me of wanting to be a writer.  And I loved that teacher a lot too, she was lovely.

7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson.  I started the book off enjoying the sparse style and oddball love story, but then I stopped caring towards the end, everything happens as it should, and at the end, I was left wondering what the point was.  It just never felt like a story worth telling.  Which is strange because, had it been a ‘true’ story, it would be.  But I’ve read books about people who did nothing – they never left their city or had an all-consuming sacrificial love, they never resigned themselves bravely to death – but… their stories were far more compelling to me than the story in Richardson’s novel.  Which is sad because I was really looking forward to that one.

8 ) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
I’m going to count ‘the past year’ as my academic year, and so I’ll say The Dylanist by Brian Morton.  Morton steps into the mind of this young, vaguely lost woman who sometimes believes herself to be mature and sometimes believes that she’s still her parents’ little girl. She rebels and she’s not perfect and she doesn’t know what she wants and floats around possibilities like all of us do in our lives.  The book starts with her childhood and ends with her settling more into her adult life, and it scarily reminded me of my own life – the same highs, the same lows, the spooky doubts and sadnesses and moments of both solitary and family bonding.  And that certainly doesn’t mean it’s generic – if anything, it is stunningly real.  I loved the book so much and Morton always has this unique way of imparting wonderful wisdom on me as a reader.  He’s quotable and his ability to transcend his own age and gender seamlessly and believably is incredible.  It’s a truly a revelation and my ‘life book’.

9) If you could force everyone  to read one book, what would it be?
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.  She has an amazing grasp on what it means to be alive, and it’s something that I think every single person could learn from and consider.  And that she managed to make such a convincing portrait of life, while still censoring herself and conforming to the constraints of time is an incredible exercise in economy that is astounding to read as a writer too.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
Honestly, I don’t know.
11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants.  It lacked so much style and poetry as a book, that it feels it was written to be a movie.  So often, books get lost in that translation because of style, poetry and inward introspection.  Gruen’s book has none of that.  Thus, it’s all movie material.  Honestly, it would be a good movie too.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Any book that I feel strongly and really passionately about, I think.  In less-than-capable hands, I would only be disappointed by the result and disillusioned by the cast, settings, etc.  The only time that hasn’t happened with a book I love is Starting Out in the Evening by Brian Morton.  The book and movie are essentially, with some details and introspection left alone in the film, identical to the author’s vision as well as my imagination and it’s creepy to watch.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
At the peak of my obsession with Harry Potter, I used to have all kinds of odd dreams about the series.  I can’t remember many specifics, except I used to always be Harry in the dreams.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
The Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella.  I ventured into chick-lit with that series and it was as far as I went into that territory.  Admittedly though, I did enjoy the series on some level.

15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
For various reasons,  I found Lolita to be one of the toughest reads.  Another tough read is The Sound and the Fury for stylistic reasons.   Also, the misery and anger behind Fat Girl by Judith Moore is desperately sad and disturbing in its ugliness and hatred, which makes it tough to get through.
16) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I haven’t read enough of either.  So I can’t answer the question.

18) Roth or Updike?
I haven’t read either of them.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Sedaris.  He’s delightful and interesting.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Shakespeare, hands down.

21) Austen or Eliot?
Austen, I suppose (although I don’t love Austen either).  Although I haven’t really read Eliot so again, it’s a difficult situation to answer.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I’ve read a lot of books but I’ve never read any of the classics – Moby Dick, Dickens, etc.  I find there’s a wall there and I can’t get past it and relate to what’s happening in those books, so it’s a trial for me – and that’s embarrassing, but that’s how it goes.  Also, for almost my entire first and second year, I hardly picked up a book at all.  Which is also embarrassing.

23) What is your favorite novel?
I have a few; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is one of the greatest books ever written, and the age and gender of the author in the time she was writing makes the book even more amazing.  Of course, I love Carol Shields and everything she’s ever done basically impresses and moves me but I think The Republic of Love is an especially special novel because it’s a romance that’s not cheesy, corny or false which is more difficult than people know.  Lullabyes for Little Criminals is brilliant too – it has some of the most unique language I’ve ever read in a novel, really interesting metaphors and observations that I think work nicely from the point of view of a child.  The book is sad and shocking and disturbing but totally riveting.  Another book I love is Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden.  It’s so dark and so disurbing but amazing.

24) Play?
The Good Woman of Setzuan by Bertolt Brecht was the only play that truly moved me, though I’m not sure why it did.  There’s just something kind of poignant about it.  She really was a good woman.  And Brecht always has that little address and clinch at the ending, which turns it on you.  Cheeky bastard he is.  I love him.

27) Short Story?
The short story that has influenced me the most in my life is definitely Boys and Girls by Alice Munro.  Her use of symbolism is mind-blowing.  Basically, the entire backstory and the entire world is created through symbols and implications.  I read it in high school and thought, “I wish I could write something this good”.  Then I started to write.  Thanks, Alice.

28) Work of non-fiction?
I don’t read much non-fiction.  The aforementioned Fat Girl by Judith Moore truly moved me and horrified me.  The cruelty of Moore’s life is so frankly and bravely stated it’s like reading a train wreck.

29) Poem?
The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje is amazing.  It’s romantic and beautiful and sweet and sexy and when I read it, I wanted to be the cinnamon peeler’s wife really badly.  Another poem I love is Michael Lassell’s How To Watch Your Brother Die.  It’s about HIV/AIDS and a poignant and beat-around-the-bush graphic account of seeing someone die of the disease and being understanding of homosexuality and death in general.  Another poem I love is The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams.  It’s the simplest poem in all the world at a glance, but there’s more to it than almost any other work of any other medium I’ve ever read.  It’s a complete work of genius disguised as something really stupid.

30) Who is your favourite writer?
I have two – Carol Shields, and Brian Morton.  Shields writes from a woman’s point of view, for women, and writes in an area of domesticity that in literature, is often easy to pass by.  She writes with confidence and poetry and are often quite cerebral and she’s funny and true and wise and some of her small details reflect a kind of nostalgia for simplicity and the 1970’s.  She writes for writers as well, addressing writing and biography in many of her novels.  She has in-jokes with herself (having Judith in Small Ceremonies writing a biography of Susanna Moodie, while she herself wrote on Moodie for her dissertation).  She is an insightful woman with a warmth to all of her work, but not a warmth that’s corny or self-indulgent.  There’s always a sadness, loneliness and sense of discovery through that in all of her books I’ve read.

Morton is a similar writer to Shields, actually.  His books are also domestic (though they all take place in New York City), cerebral, poetic and oddly enough, from a woman’s point of view a lot of the time.  Despite that they are from a man’s perspective, there’s something feminine about them.  Morton is also a writer’s writer, exploring writing and issues of self-preservation, jealousy, being surpassed by your ‘apprentice’, relevance, age differences in different milieus and so on.  His books at times have a braided narrative, exploring the same events through different perspectives.  He does this thing where he creates unlikeable, severely flawed, bitter people and somehow manages to garner sympathy for them.  I have read everything Morton’s ever written and generally have nothing bad to say about him.  I don’t know how he has women down so perfectly.  It seems the mark of a deeply senstive, caring person.

31) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Dan Brown.  Stephanie Meyer.  Fuck both of them.  I hate them SO much.

32) What is your desert island book?
I’d say something like Great Expectations or Joyce’s Ulysses. Because it would be difficult to get through, and long, so you could hang onto that idea of literature for much longer than you would a book that’s a short, easy read.  And you’d have nothing but time to REALLY dig in there.

33) And … what are you reading right now?
I’m just finishing up Lolita by Nabokov, and I’m going to start Fall by Colin McAdam next, I think.  Either that, or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Kesey.


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