The author whose new novel is '' Welcome Home, Stranger,'' says bad prose can never yield a great book : '' How can a house be great if it's made of shoddy materials? ''

.-  What books are on your night stand?

I'm living temporarily in a rented house in Iowa City, teaching at the Writers' Workshop. When I arrived there was not one book in the entire place, so I made an emergency trip to the local used-book store, collecting whatever leaped out at me from the shelves, mostly based on wonderful titles :

'' Overhead in a Balloon,'' by Mavis Gallant; ''Watson's Apology,'' by Beryl Bainbridge; '' Anthillis of the Savannah,'' by Chinua Achebe; '' The Brandon Papers,'' by Quentin Bell; '' The Marquis of Bollibar,'' by Leo Perutz;

'' The Seven  Sisters,'' by Margaret Drabble; ''Bruised Hibiscus,'' by Elizabeth Nunez; '' A Journal of the Plague Year,'' by Daniel Defoe.

.-  What's the last great book you read?

''Chronicle of a Death Foretold,'' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I taught it in my seminar last week. Our conversation crackled and popped - you know a book is good when an entire room full of astute readers gets excited about taking it apart to see how it works.

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

''  The Sea, the Sea,'' by Iris Murdoch, and I'm glad I waited, because it felt fortuitously apropos to read it for the first time at my age [ I'm 61 ].This is a powerful novel about the dismantling of ego, the truth of love - I'm in awe of Murdoch's genius.

.-  What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

'' Annie John,'' the best coming of age novel I've ever read - Jamaica Kincaid is incandescently honest about girlhood.

.-  What book should nobody read until the age of 40?

I would venture to say ''Middlemarch,'' because its philosophical and penetrating character studies might resonate more deeply for a reader with decades of perspective and experience.

.-  What writers are especially good on difficult mothers or family estrangements [or both]?

James Hannaham, Dorothy Allison, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Augusten Burroughs, Mary Karr, Edward St. Aubyn, Alison Bechdel.

And of course William Shakespeare; King Lear banishes his favorite daughter for telling the truth, seeing him as he is instead of propping up his vanity - there is no greater depiction in literature of the  insistent ego of the elderly parent in the face of a daughter's pure but cleareyed love.

.-  What's the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

From Jessica Anthony's satirical short novel '' Enter the Aardvark.'' I learned the Aardvark has a buccal snout with nine olfactory bulbs.

.-  What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

I'm glad there's no book police checking up on who has or hasn't read '' Moby Dick'' or ''Don Quixote.''  I'll get around to them someday, when the time is right.

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!