Wednesday, February 5, 2014

For the Love of Books

Photo: Illiers-Cambray, setting of the first (of seven) novels that make up Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (or, In Search of Lost Time), from the book's Wikipedia page.

The premise of this book: The editor, Ronald B. Shwartz, sent a message to 115 authors, asking them to respond via letter or phone.  His prompt: "Identify those 3-6 books that have in some way influenced or affected you most deeply, 'spoken to' you the loudest, and explain why--in personal terms.  All books, whether 'Great Books' or not-so-great books--books of any kind, genre, period--are fair game."

Many greats--in literature, the arts, the sciences--responded.  Kurt Vonnegut's was the most memorable to me, but here also are Russell Banks, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, Jonathan Harr, John Hawkes, John Irving, Susanna Kaysen, W.P. Kinsella, Caroline Knapp, Elmore Leonard, Doris Lessing, Norman Mailer, Frank McCourt, Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Grace Paley, Robert B. Parker, Robert Pirsig, Mario Puzo, Neil Simon, Oliver Stone (Did anyone know that he published a novel awhile ago?  Has anyone read it?), William Styron, Gay Talese, John Updike, and Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff--just to name a few.

Which titles were mentioned the most?

Surprisingly--to me, anyway--the title mentioned the most, by far, was Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.  It was not close.

The others, in order:

Moby-Dick by Herman Mellville
The Bible
The Brothers Karamazov by Leo Tolstoy (or Tolstoi, which I prefer, as a T206 fanatic)
Ulysses by James Joyce
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoi
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
William Shakespeare's Collected Works
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Most of the selections were idiosyncratic, but there were still a few Hemingways, Austins, and others in there.  Most books we've heard of before were mentioned two or three times.  Those in the list above were mentioned at least six times, at most ten times.

But it was an interesting read, and not very taxing.  It didn't take a lot out of me, which is good, since I've had a headache to drive me insane for the past week or so.

Highly recommended, if you're curious at all about what made an impression on these writers--and why.

I thought it might be interesting to pretend that I am relevant enough to get asked this as well, and so that'll be a blog entry to come.  When I post it, please feel free to write your own list of 3-6 books--and the Why, if you're so inclined.  Do so here, below, if you wish.

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