The author, whose new novel is '' The Vulnerables, ''  says a good book can make you '' not only forget that you're stuck............  in a noisy, crowded, smelly, subway but miss your stop.

.-  What books are on your night stand?

I've been traveling, so I'll tell you what's on my hotel night stand : '' The Pocket Haiku,'' compiled and translated by Sam Hamill. I like to take this tiny book with me when I leave home.

Reading and rereading these poems by Basho, Buson, Issa and other Japanese masters is a kind of meditation for me. And it's good to be reminded how much insight and emotion can be expressed in just three short lines.

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

'' All My Cats,'' by Bohumil Hrabal, a memoir that he completed in 1983 but that was only recently published here, in a translation from the Czech by Paul Wilson. This is one of those rare books that meet Kafka's ideal of what a book should be : '' An ax for the frozen sea within us.''

It also meets Nabokov's concise definition of art : '' Beauty plus pity.''

.-  What writers are especially good on grief?

Most writers who-ve stood the test of time have been - at least somewhere in their work - good on the shared human experience of grief.

But thinking about recent writers, I would name W.G. Sebald, Julian Barnes, Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

.-  Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

Joy Williams once suggested that perhaps it has been a mistake for writers to be focused so obsessively on humans - a mistake she thought might even result in the death of literature.

I agree with her that we have failed to find a language adequate to writing about the wondrous natural world and what is happening to it. I'd like to see more writing about the earth and about nonhuman beings.

I'd like more animals to appear as characters in fiction, but by this I don't mean narratives from an animal's point of view, which I rarely find convincing.

.-  What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I myself am surprised to find a copy of '' Tiffany's Table Manners for Teenagers.'' When and why did I, who have never shared a home with a teenager, acquire this? It must have been for one of the ex-boyfriends.

.-  How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I find it hard to believe there was a time -after many years ago - when I finished every book I started. Now I read the first few pages of a book, and if I see certain signs - dead sentences, convoluted metaphors, a verbose or self-conscious style - I lose trust in the writer. I need to know I'm in good hands if I'm to go on.

.-  What are you planning on reading next?

I've just received a copy of '' The Road to the City,'' a novel by Natalia Ginzburg, translated from the Italian by Gini Alhadeff. The book is a part of series from New Directions called Storybook ND : '' the pleasure one felt as a child reading a marvellous book from cover to cover in an afternoon.''

Ginzburg thought '' The Road to the City,'' her first work, might also have been her best one. Her translator agrees and maybe I will, too. In any case, with Ginzburg, one of my favorite writers, I know I'll be in good hands.

The World Students Society thanks The New York Times.


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