Thursday, December 1, 2005 | Categories: Reading Lists |
Every December, looking ahead to the holidays, Eleanor Wachtel speaks with four writers about the books they read as children, the books that changed their lives, and their favourite books for the year.
Panel participants/most recent books:
The Secret Purposes by David Baddiel is published in paperback by Abacus.
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi is published by Viking.
A Changed Man: A Novel and Caravaggio A Painter of Miracles by Francine Prose are published by HarperCollins.
Books they grew up with:
David Baddiel talked about reading the Billy Bunter books by Frank Richards, and the Just William books by Richmal Crompton. Later, he read the books of John Wyndham, mostly because his father was a fan of science fiction and had them in the house.
Helen Oyeyemi read all of the Roald Dahl books, and the books of Judy Blume and Anne Fine. Also, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Francine Prose remembers finding Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow quite boring, but her imagination was sparked by the beautiful illustrations. She also read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, with the wonderful illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.
Books they read as teens and young adults:
Francine Prose is now embarrassed to have read (as a young beatnik) the works of Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Hermann Hesse and Carlos Castaneda. But all of her peers were reading the same thing, so she forgives herself for it now.
Helen Oyeyemi went through a depression in her early teens and read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and the works of Kafka - which she described as being very different when one is depressed. She also read Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. For the panel, Oyeyemi read the poem It Was Not Death by Emily Dickinson.
David Baddiel was a big fan of Martin Amis in his teens. He later found himself being heavily influenced by John Updike. For the panel, David Baddiel read from Couples by John Updike.
Best book read in the past year (not necessarily published in the past year):
Francine Prose talked about The Fierce and Beautiful World by Andrei Platonov. She said that whatever you thought about structure, and laws of plausibility - you just forget with this book. She also mentioned Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, and said that you don't know if the characters are living or dead, but it doesn't matter. It's not magical realism, but something else.
David Baddiel talked about Duet (two novellas) by Carol Shields. Further to the Carol Shields discussion, he said he believed that Larry's Party was the best male narrator written by a female author. He has also recently been reading (and very much enjoying) Girls: A Paean by Nic Kelman - a brutal book about male mid-life crisis.
Helen Oyeyemi has recently been impressed by Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
Books to give to a child:
Francine Prose said that she would give The Elements of Style by E.B. White, and William Strunk Jr., with illustrations by Maira Kalman to all infants; they'll grow into it one day.