Friday 3rd January 2020
Q1) The first book you ever loved
Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo. I was fifteen, and reading this book was affecting of course in so many ways. It was also my first experience of reading vivid sensory detail. “A little puff of air came up from between the covers and he could smell her. Clean clean flesh and the smell of soap and sheets.” After reading that, soap was never just soap again.
Q2) The book you’ve read more than any other
Without, by Donald Hall, his 1998 collection of poems written after the death of his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or what time of day or night it is, when I pick up this collection, I read it straight through.
Q3) A book you despise
I was angered and disappointed by Terrorist by John Updike, a book the author confessed having researched by reading 'Islam for Dummies', which tells you all you need to know. The novel employs some of the worst and most ignorant stereotypes imaginable about its primary character, Ahmad Mulloy, who is, in fact, American-born and bicultural — his mother is third-generation Irish American and his absent father, Egyptian. And though born and raised in New Jersey, Ahmad's dialog reads like a villain's from a bad movie. I'd long been an admirer of John Updike’s prose style, but if I hadn’t been reading this disaster of a book for graduate school, I would have gladly stopped.
Q4) A book full of beautiful writing
Any book by Charles Baxter.
Q5) The book you’ve been meaning to read for years, but haven’t
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Q6) The book you’re reading currently
I’m re-reading Howards End by E.M. Forster.
Q7) Your favourite short story
It’s difficult to say my favorite, but a story that has continued to live inside me — long after first reading it — is Laura Glen Louis' Fur, which you can find in Best American Short Stories 1994, selected by Tobias Wolff, and in her wonderful collection, Talking in the Dark. Of the story, Wolff wrote, it’s “…a constantly surprising account of a wealthy widower’s attachment to a girl who wants things. They are neither of them who they seem to be, nor, even more interestingly, who they believe themselves to be.” The story’s setting, Oakland’s Chinatown, San Francisco, and the East Bay hills, is home ground for me, and is rendered both familiar and beautifully specific.
Q8) Your all-time favourite novel
A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul.
Read Biswas for Naipaul’s superb approach to portraying a setting, Trinidad; one he knew, even as he wrote it, to be unprecedented in literature. ●
Lauren Alwan’s fiction and essays have appeared in the Southern Review, ZYZZYVA, Nimrod International, Catapult Magazine, the O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, and others.
She is a staff contributor at LitStack, and a prose editor at the museum of americana, an online literary review.