Questions and Answers about Books I’ve Read

Being a librarian, I spend most of my working day online — email, web searches, database articles, Twitter, Facebook, a few dozen blogs. Sometimes, really fun things capture my attention, like something washed up on the shore.

Today’s web gift was this Entertainment Weekly interview with Jonathan Franzen (“Jonathan Franzen on the Books He Loves and Loathes“). I enjoyed Franzen’s The Corrections and How to Be Alone very much. The interview is fun because it reveals Franzen as a reader to be a normal guy who likes Asimov but hasn’t yet actually managed Moby-Dick.

I like these questions so much I decided to have a go at them myself just for fun. Think of this as one of those silly games people play on Facebook, except interesting because it is about books.

What was your favorite book as a child?

That’s not so easy. All the books I read as a kid tend to wash together for me. As a kid, I loved the mere act of reading more than any one specific book. When I picture myself reading as a kid, I see myself reading The Black Cauldron series by Lloyd Alexander. I don’t remember specific plots, but I remember being completely captured by the stories, and I remember the look and feel of those books very well.

What is your favorite book that you read for school?

I remember reading The Sun Also Rises several times my junior year of high school. I was knocked out that the writing was so spare and there was so much dialogue. I knew there was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that I didn’t really understand. I loved the way the story hinted at big, complicated, grown up things without coming right out and talking about them. That felt pretty true to life. The things people are willing to talk about are usually pretty trivial. If you listen carefully, people tell you more than just the things they want you to know. They end up telling you the things they need you to know.

What’s a book that really cemented you as a writer?

 Reading Ralph Waldo Emerson as a junior in high school helped me realize I could dress spiritual experiences up in words. It also made me comfortable with reaching for the big, vague ideas in my head and just keep turning them over on the page until I got the sense of what I was talking about. So much of Emerson for me is a blend between brilliance and bewilderment. He helped me learn how to toss it all in.
Is there a book you’ve read over and over again?

I have read Stephen King’s The Stand at least 6 times. It is a totem for me. My original mass market copy fell apart so I got rid of it. The copy on my shelf today is the updated trade paper edition. I miss the mass market copy with the blue cover and yellow eyes. That book was my serious friend.

What’s a classic that you’re embarrassed to say you’ve never read?

I’ve never read The Red Badge of Courage. No one ever made me. Its not an easy book to just pick up and read if no one is making you.

What’s a book you’ve pretended to have read?

I nod sometimes and smile when people talk about Red Badge of Courage.

I have only read Leaves of Grass in snippets and snatches. I’ve read the whole thing in pieces but never in one continuous run. Still, I talk about it like a single, magical experience every reader should have. That’s not really being honest.

What’s a book you consider grossly overrated?

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Don’t get it. Don’t want it. Way to many easter eggs hiding in Joyce’s work. A good book shouldn’t require a magic decoder ring.

T.S. Eliot is the same for me. To much work. Not enough substance.

What’s a recent book you wish you had written?

I was pretty knocked out by Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead. He does some really tricky things in that story that simply amaze.

What’s a movie adaptation of a book that you loved?

I haven’t read Ender’s Game but loved the movie. I’m actually not sure if I want to read the book. I’m afraid it won’t live up to the film. I’m usually the other way around about these things.

What was an illicit book that you had to read in secret as a kid?

A collection of Greek and Roman mythology. It was illustrated with line drawing and photographs of classical statuary. All of the characters were naked, which my mother thought highly inappropriate for an eight year old. There was a conversation and it was decided that the text was suitable and that I wasn’t receiving any prurient satisfaction from the nude gods, goddesses and heros. Pretty tame stuff. Naked bodies were uncommon in my home. We didn’t even subscribe to National Geographic.

I realized from this small controversy that my mom couldn’t handle the more disturbing stuff I read later as a teen. I had to hide my Clive Barker graphic novels. They were everything bad — naked, demented and, occasionally, I suppose, depraved. I got them from a friend who got them from a comic shop in Nashville. They weren’t easy to get. I cherished them for the garish green sticker on the covers that read: “Not suitable for children. This is intended only for adults.” Super fantastic stuff.

What’s a book that people might be surprised to learn that you loved?

Native Son by Richard Wright. Not sure why, but people seem really surprised when I mention how much I enjoyed it.

If there were only one genre you could read for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I think I could satisfy myself by reading only science fiction from now on. The quality of ideas in good science fiction excites me. There’s no better way than science fiction to talk about the ways we live our lives today.

What was the last book that made you laugh out loud, and what was the last one that made you cry?

Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House has some wonderfully funny stories in it.

Room by Emma Donough choked me up a bit. I didn’t cry. If I did, nobody saw me and can’t prove anything.

What are you reading right now?

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

Okay. That was fun. Now, its your turn. I’d enjoy hearing your take on any or all of these questions. Post comments here or blog them and post the link.

2 thoughts on “Questions and Answers about Books I’ve Read

  1. I never felt my reading was being censored as a child because I read a great deal and my parents had no idea what I was reading so censorship was impractical. As a parent I had a no censorship policy on reading but sometimes objected to things they watched. I have the same philosophy for personal reading as an adult. I sometimes avoid viewing some things based on content but never restrict reading content. I have read some pieces directly opposed to beliefs I strongly hold just to be aware of the best reasoned opposition. I have also read some pretty racy things just to find out what the uproar is about. Now the ultimate censorship/selection process is the final realization that I won’t be able to read all the things I want to read in my lifetime. So anything that displaces something else I would prefer to read is a waste of time.


    • I agree with you entirely, Charles. Our reading should support us in our opinions and beliefs but the core benefit of reading, for me, is to challenge my views and let me examine thoughts and belief unlike my own. I’m 39 and already calculating the opportunity cost involved with each book I read.


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