The writer, who just won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel ''Trust,'' loves to read ''novels that, as they unfold, try to figure out what being a novel means.''

.- What's the last great book you read? '' Harrow,'' by Joy Williams. Her syntactical inventiveness, her lexical surprises, her merciless yet somehow compassionate sense of humour, her absolute earnestness and that never falls into didacticism, her commitment to '' that great cold elemental grace that knows us'' make Williams one of the most important authors writing today.

After a long time, I recently went back to a heavily underlined copy of Beckett's trilogy [ '' Molloy,''  ''Malone Dies,'' '' The Unnamable '' ].

It's so unbearably good that I had to order another copy so I could read it again without the interference of my notes, as if for the first time.

.- Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

Let's define ''classic,'' a word that makes no one happy, in personal terms. To me, a classic is a book that alters my definition of literature, expands the horizon of language, appeals to emotions I didn't know I had, and reaffirms my desire to read and write.

Have I been a latecomer to some of these epiphanic books? Absolutely. A few months ago, I read Nicholson Bakers ''The Mezzanine'' for the first time. It pulverized me.

This short novel [ the narrator humbly calls it an ''opusculum'', narrating a man's journey on an escalator from the ground floor to the mezzanine, is one of the most beautiful reflections I've ever encountered on how we dwell in time, on how transcendency maybe found in the mundane, on how we gradually become the some of our habits, on how difference and repetition are inextricably entangled.

Formally, it's unlike any other novel I've ever read. Stylistically, it's perfection.

If the question is about canonical literature, I recently read Flaubert's ''Bouvart and Pecuchet'' for the first time. It makes sense that this novel remains unfinished, since it is concerned with a farcical form of infinity - a pair of charming nincompoops trying to acquire all of human knowledge.

These two copyists are the flip side of Bartleby : If Melville's scrivener ''would prefer not to,'' Flaubert's scribes seem to be saying ''sign me up!'' to absolutely everything, from landscape gardening to theology to gymnastics. 

They belong in the tradition of those lovely misreaders who fail to understand where the book ends and the world begins, like Don Quixote and, of course, Emma Bovary.

.- What did you read while you were working on ''Trust''?

Writing, for me begins with reading. And because ''Trust'' is such a polyphonic novel, I had to read quite widely. The novel contains four different books, written by different fictional authors in disparate genres and styles.

For the first section, a novel-within-the-novel, I read and reread a lot of turn-of-the-century writers like Edith Wharton, Constance Fenomore Woolson, Vernon Lee, and Henry and Alice James.

The second part is a fragmentary historical document written in the voice of a ''Great Man.''  ''For a long time, I subsisted on a barely digestible diet of manspreading memoirs - Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Ford and Calvin Coolidge are only some of the names on that unsavoury menu.

The third book has a different tone altogether, and it was such a joy to return to writers like Joan Didion and Lillian Ross for inspiration. '' Trust '' closes with a personal diary that is also a sort of a prose poem and love letter to modernism.

While writing this, I read and revisited authors as different as Jean Rhys, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Dawn Powell, Theodor Adorno and Gertrude Stein.

I also conducted a lot of archival work, and going through the personal papers of several real-life women married to American tycoons was especially poignant.

.-  Do you have any comfort reads?

I just walked over to the P.G.Wodehouse section of my library and can report that I've 29 of his books. Oh, how I love Wodehouse! 

Eversurprising in his repetitiousness, never failing to delight, always making us safe in his breezy world. It is paradoxical that Wodehouse should give me so much comfort when he also makes me feel how mean and shabby my life is each time I emerge from one of his novels.

.- What moves you most in a book?

Language opening up.

.- Which genres do you especially enjoy reading. And what do you avoid?

I love the novel as a form. And I particularly love novels that, as they unfold, try to figure out what being a novel means. I avoid genres that have anything to do with magic and whimsy. This also means that I don't like books about any sort of gods.

.-  Disappointing, overrated, just not good : What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn't. Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I used to fully commit to finishing a book, even if I disliked it. But since realizing that I am, in a general way, dying, I've decided there isn't enough time to finish books that weren't meant for me. Who thought finitude could be so liberating?

The World Students Society thanks review author :  The New York Times.


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