By the Book

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I’m no Ann Patchett nor Russell Banks nor Donna Tartt nor EL Doctorow — all of whom I adore — but so what.  Let’s pretend we’re being interviewed for this weekly column by The New York Times, but without the pressure to seem “literary” and calling it like we  really see (read?) it.

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What’s the best book you’ve read recently?   This is such a tough choice because it depends on the reason I’m reading.  I loved the very long and very dug-in THE GOLDFINCH, but if we’re talking about the books I enjoyed the most and could not wait to get back to at the end of a day, I have to go with Lisa Unger’s thriller HEARTBROKEN and David Rosenfelt’s DOG TRIPPING.  And I just downloaded Howard Norman’s I HATE TO LEAVE THIS BEAUTIFUL PLACE, so I’m looking forward to that.

When and where do you like to read?  The nook in my couch.  The bathtub.  I read in bed, always, but that’s a routine fantasy because I rarely last more than a few pages.

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What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?  Jane Smiley’s A THOUSAND ACRES, Wallace Stegner’s CROSSING TO SAFETY, Mary Karr’s LIT, Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, William Styron’s SOPHIE’S CHOICE, and Judith Guest’s ORDINARY PEOPLE.  I would be embarrassed to tell you how many times (dozens??) I’ve read these books and how many times I’ve listened to them on audio.  I’m learning, and these are my brilliant, priceless teachers.

Outlander-blue-cover-198x300Which books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?   At least 3 entire shelves about slavery and the Holocaust.  Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE is one of my favorite books of all time, and I don’t care for westerns.  If I could read the Diana Gabaldon OUTLANDER series over and over again, and still get the surprises, I would totally do it — I have never been more in love with any other series of big fat books, ever.

Which novels have had the most impact on you as a writer?  Every essay Joan Didion ever published.  Dorothy Allison’s BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA and Rick Bragg’s ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’ — I felt like I knew every character in these stories, and that the writers helped me know them better than I ever could on my own.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?   I would ask the president to read one poem every night before bed.  Especially poems by Richard Wright and Anna Akhmatova and Tomas Transtromer and Nikky Finney.  Like Nikky Finney’s “Dancing with Strom”.  Just fucking brilliant.

What does your personal book collection look like? Do you organize your books in any particular way?  Of course I do.  And if I find out yours aren’t, I might have to come over and organize them for you!  My books are meticulously arranged by category — first editions, memoir, history, biography, classics, poetry, short stories, French, mysteries/thrillers, fiction — though not by author.  I have to draw the crazy-lady-line somewhere, right?

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?  I refuse to comment on living writers, but if I try to read anything by Hemingway I just want to poke my eyes out.  I don’t get it.  I just don’t.  Blech.  So there.

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How would you answer honestly all — or any — of these NYT questions?  Come on, commiserate.

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9 thoughts on “By the Book

  1. Catherine

    Ok here goes. The Devil that Danced on the Water by Aminatta Forna, just finished, had me weeping. Going to write to her this morning. Where? In bed, or while waiting for the computer to download stuff, or at the kitchen table. Who do I go back to? Shakespeare. Emily Dickinson. James Salter’s short stories, Katherine Mansfield, Tim Winton’s stuff. I don’t think there are so many surprises in my library. I have mostly fiction but also a lot of books on African traditional art and many novels in French. Influences as a writer? Patrick White, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Simone de Beauvoir, Anais Nin, so many. Your President? I have to say I agree with Teri. Some poetry. John Donne is my master. Disappointment. Well, I don’t like to point the finger either. I listen carefully to friends’ recommendations and read reviews, so I don’t usually fall upon clangers. I can’t say!

    That was fun!

    1. Teri Post author

      She had you weeping and now you have to write to her? I’m picking up The Devil that Danced on the Water for sure, now.

      My husband reads even more than I do, and we only cross-over a little, so there are shelves upon shelves of books I hope to become interested in …. one of these days.

      John Donne. Ahhhh. His work reminds me of some of my favorite semesters in college.

  2. Paul Lamb

    I’ve read Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer perhaps 30 times. And I am completely with you on the whole Hemingway things. (Same with The Great Gatsby and, alas, Donna Tartt.) I organize my books in various ways, but I’ve been doing a lot of culling lately.

    1. Teri Post author

      And The Great Gatsby —- there are portions of it that blow me away, especially the last few pages, but there are long and winding sections where I read and think, “but I just don’t care.”

      I, too, have done a lot of culling lately. One of those things like cleaning out closets: the more I do it, the easier it is. I’m getting much better at keeping the books I really love and the books I know I’m going to read … one day.

  3. Josey

    What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
    I just read The Giver last night for my daughter’s 4th grade book club, and I kinda of loved it–or at least, what it had to say. (and i hear there’s going to be a movie w/ jeff bridges and i didn’t mind at all reading with his face in mind as the giver)

    When and where do you like to read?
    anytime..bed, bath…my most favorite is on a beach chair w/ my feet in the water and the sun beating down on me.

    What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
    erica jong’s stuff mostly

    Which books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?
    i’m a glutton for new agey/self helpey/co-depent-ey no more books (although, i’m not sure that surprises anyone…)

    Which novels have had the most impact on you as a writer?
    i loved the fountain head in high school, The Women’s Room, Fear of Flying. The artist way (not a novel, but still impacted me). seeing sue monk kidd and elizabeth gilbert talk early in their fame had a huge impact on me.

    If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
    i want him to tell me what to read. (& i kinda like thinking he already reads nikky finney)

    What does your personal book collection look like? Do you organize your books in any particular way?
    i am currently in the middle of a re-org and would like to hold my answer to this question for a later date.

    Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing? my own.

    1. Teri Post author

      The book you put down without finishing: your own. HAHAHA! I’m dying to finish mine so I can put the damned thing down. I’m so sick of writing about me — ugh.

      Now, since the January Cosmo list came out, every time I see Sue Monk Kidd’s name I think of Averil Dean’s book on the same list. 🙂

  4. independentclause

    Best book I’ve read recently: I’m a broken record, but “The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days” by Ian Frazier. He really understands blogging. Also “Secrets to a Happy Marriage” by Ann Patchett. I hate the title, and I may even have it slightly wrong, but the book is very, very good.
    When and where do you like to read: Anywhere, any time. However, my couch is pretty great. And bed is even better.
    What book do you return to: “Witch of Blackbird Pond,” “Refuge,” and “The Blue Sword.”
    Surprise books: I have a lot of schlock fantasy novels. This surprises my more literary acquaintances. One of my favorite things anyone has said about me was the bookstore colleague who said “I never can guess what you’ll be reading.”
    I’m not a novelist, but memoirs that have had an impact on me are: “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure,” by Dorothy Allison, “Refuge,” by Terry Tempest Williams, “Wickerby,” by [can’t remember, sorry], “How Proust Can Change Your Life,” [title possibly slightly different] by Alain de Botton, and “Still Points North,” by Leigh Newman.
    As for the president reading books, I can’t say it better than Teri: more poems.
    Organization: Loosely by subject; former booksellers are either rabid about organization or cannot even put their books back on the shelves without having work flashbacks.
    Disappointing: Many memoirs I read last year, but like Teri, I don’t name names. You know. Email me if you want the dirt. 🙂

  5. girl in the hat

    I’m reading Lit now (I know, I know, so overdue but it finally showed up on our sale table) and OMFG I can’t stand how good it is! Painfully good. I am flabbergasted by how she can stitch together so many different moments to add up to a larger picture. I don’t think I can do that, but it will be fun to try.

  6. Averil Dean

    What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
    I’m just finishing The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I’ve enjoyed very much. But I’m working through the lastest in the Akashic Noir series, and those stories feel closer to my dark little heart. Trouble on every page.

    When and where do you like to read?
    Where do I not?

    What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
    Breath by Tim Winton, Lolita, Bastard out of Carolina, JCO’s short stories, the Mary Westmacott books by Agatha Christie, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.

    Which books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?
    Everything Maeve Binchy ever wrote. Ditto Rosamunde Pilcher.

    Which novels have had the most impact on you as a writer?
    9 1/2 Weeks, a short, strange memoir about a violent erotic relationship. Not a novel, of course, but it was a book that gave me permission to write about sex the way I wanted to.

    If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
    No idea. I can’t imagine that any recommendation from me would improve him.

    What does your personal book collection look like? Do you organize your books in any particular way?
    I separate fiction from nonfiction, and organize by color. That probably seems cheesy, but it’s how I visualize book covers and makes it easier for me to find them.

    Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
    I much prefer modern books and find it really difficult to get into some of the older classic novels. The language is just too foreign and requires too much work in translation for me to truly enjoy them.

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