The Covid pandemic has changed a lot of our habits. Has it had an effect on your reading habits?
I have been reminded how important consistent, daily reading is on my mental and emotional health. When I don’t read, I feel the stresses of our current situation more. I have avoided dystopian novels with plagues, though.
What is your favorite genre? Which do you avoid?
I tend to read a lot of speculative fiction (SF), non-fiction outdoor adventures, and works by American Indians. Some literary westerns. I challenge myself to read based on best of lists from the end of the year. I’m open to reading any genre, although I don’t read much romance, or mysteries.
What is a book that you’re afraid to read?
I’ve yet to tackle Joyce’s Ulysses. Like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, I feel like reading it in a class or with others is necessary to understand and appreciate, and I just haven’t had the opportunity.
What is a book you dislike/hate that everyone loves?
My most recent rant has been against The Goldfinch. I really liked the first part, but when the narrative moved to Las Vegas and then ended in Amsterdam, I had real problems with the narrative and pace.
What book is currently sitting on your nightstand?
I just started reading Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True (it’s been on my shelf for years) in the mornings. At night, I’m reading Richard McGuire’s Here, a graphic novel in which he visuals all the events, over hundreds of thousands of years, that have occurred in one place (a room).
What’s the last great book you read? The last book you recommended to everyone you know?
I have recommended George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo to several people.
Are there any classic novels you read recently for the first time?
I finally read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and then I read Go Set a Watchman. It was fascinating to read them together and to see how Mockingbird grew out of Watchman. I also recently read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Jamaica Inn.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, what, where, how).
A cold, snowy morning outside—inside, a warm fire and cup of black tea. No other demands for the day so that I can read as long as I want. Read, paper book; cat on the lap.
Do you have a favorite book no one else has heard of?
I expect Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles is familiar to many people, but I’m not sure how many have read it. Every time I read it, with my students, I’m reminded how powerful his collection of connected short stories is in exploring the issue of otherness.
Which writers – novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets – working today do you admire most?
There are writers whose works I seek out--Louise Erdrich, George Saunders, Ted Chiang—because of their skill. But I don’t follow writer’s personal or public actions. I try to separate the writing from the personality.
What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?
I just started reading Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books. Monty Pythonesque, absurdist, word play is what I really find funny.
What’s the most interesting thing that you learned from a book recently?
Ariel Sabar, in Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man, and the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, reports that the owners of Hobby Lobby are buying religious artifacts that disagree with their biblical interpretations in order to remove them from public view.
Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
I’m drawn in mainly by narratives that challenge me intellectually, that pose questions and challenges to our perceptions. But if they don’t have characters and stories that are engaging, they can be empty experiences to read. A great writer pushes us intellectually with stories that draw us in.
What book might people be surprised to find on your bookshelf?
Probably all the children’s literature I have. My mother recently gave me her collection (she’s a retired schoolteacher) of Newbery and Caldecott winners.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
My favorite character (neither villain nor hero) is Willy from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. His delusional pathos is so powerful. It is also hard to top Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost. He’s the villain of the biblical story, but I’d argue he’s the hero of Milton’s epic poem.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you the most?
Most of my memories are as a teen reading SF (books by Alan Dean Foster were a favorite) and James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Really, the only writer I want to meet is Shakespeare, as there is so much we don’t know about him. Otherwise, I’m not really interested in meeting authors. I’m interested in hearing what other readers think of a work, rather than what the author thought or intended.
What do you plan to read next?
I’ll probably read Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction, but I have so many unread books on my shelf (and in my Kindle) to choose from.
What is indigenous science fiction?
Good question. It is also called Indigenous Futurism. It is science fiction incorporating indigenous culture (history, community, folklore, etc.), written by someone from the indigenous community. In simple terms, is it science fiction written from a Native American perspective. Here is a good podcast about it: Our Opinions are Correct – Episode 63: What is Indigenous Futurism? (https://www.ouropinionsarecorrect.com/shownotes/2020/7/30/episode-63-what-is-indigenous-futurism)
What book would you most like to see turned into a movie or TV series that hasn’t already been adapted?
Nothing immediately comes to mind, but I’m eager to see the new adaption of Frank Herbert’s Dune. I’m also really interested to see the adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. That is a really difficult book series to translate to visuals.
What’s the last book you read that made you cry?
I can’t think of any book that made me cry. But I recently read Lincoln Hall’s Dead Lucky, about his improbable survival on Mount Everest. He talked about the other climbers that year that succumbed on that mountain. Reading how quickly a moment of joy can become a fatal crisis lingered with me.
What’s the last book you read that made you furious?
I hate-read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.