Thursday, January 10, 2008

From whence came my faves

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  1. How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?
  2. Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?
I'll go down the list of favorites on my side bar and see if can remember.
I was probably assigned all of Chekhov's plays in one theater class or another in college. I don't remember reading him before that. But I don't remember really loving him until I played him. A friend made a play combining letters among the members of the Moscow Art Theater and scenes from Chekhov's plays. Each person took a role in one of his plays and a historical figure like Chekhov, Olga Knipper, Stanislavski, Nemirovitch-Danchenkov, etc.. I played Kulygin and Chekhov. I don't love all his plays equally. The Cherry Orchard is my hands-down favorite. I read it once a year. The Three Sisters is a close second. I can't stand The Seagull but I keep trying. I've read a lot of the stories but they don't sing to me the way his plays do.

Iris Murdoch I didn't read until well after college, but I believe that my great-aunt Grete really enjoyed her and had given my grandparents some of her books. So I know I saw a few of her books in my grandparents' library. I believe my first was The Book and the Brotherhood and that I picked it up in one of my favorite bookstores in Chicago - either Barbara's or Powell's and was an immediate fan. I haven't yet read all her books. I am saving them up so I have some to look forward to. Please note, I cannot stand the movie Iris; I think it's crap.

At Swim Two Boys was, I believe, a gift from my friend Brad.

Cloud Street (magnificent story) I don't remember how I discovered it but until recently my copies were always used, so it probably was not a gift.

Crime and Punishment I had to read in college for a killer course called Dickens and Dostoyevsky. I was crazy about it from the get-go and have probably read it at least four or five times since then. I have dreams of making a rock opera of it.

I believe my friend Pam introduced me to Wallace Stegner, she loves his writing, and I bought a copy of Crossing to Safety at Three Lives bookstore before going to a B&B in the Hudson River Valley once about five years ago. The rest is history. His is writing to savor.

My grandparents loved Thomas Mann and had all of his books in German and many in English as well. I read Doctor Faustus after college in Chicago. I think I probably read it in connection with understanding modern music better. I also had a thing about versions of the Faust story for a while. I sort of collected them.

I picked up Dombey & Son at my favorite little East Village used bookshop for a couple of dollars and for no particularly good reason and was just blown away by it. It started me reading Dickens again, who I hadn't picked up since that Dickens and Dostoyevsky college course.

For Kings and Planets - I read everything by Ethan Canin. I had read his first story collection The Emperor of the Air and his set of Chekhovian portraits The Palace Thief as soon as they came out. He's a real writer's writer. I think I was initially attracted to his story - Harvard med school student who actually finds enough time to write a book and then, with its success, takes time off to write. I think For Kings... was actually his second novel, the first wasn't that great. But I was nuts about this book right away and have read it many times.

I wish I could remember how I first encountered Franny and Zooey but I don't. I know I was reading it in college. Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roofbeams Carpenter and Seymour were my favorite books then. They were my late-teenage angst books. I would read them when I was moody, consequently I read them often. I thought they were utterly brilliant then. I wonder if I still would. I feel Zooey Glass is someone I went to high school with. That's probably because I went to high school with so many snide, hyper verbal, Upper West Side boys who were fresh to their mothers.

Sheila introduced me to Hopeful Monsters. No questions there. We are its fan club, apparently.

I discovered My Name is Asher Lev in high school, as I did all of Chiam Potok's books. It was my bible of the misunderstood, outcast artist and I read it often. Gorgeous story.

My grandparents were big Herman Hesse fans. Having read all of his books in German. In fact, Hesse knew my great-grandfather slightly and assisted in getting him out of Germany in 1933. I read Narcissus and Goldmund right after college when I was pretty much book binging and read all of Hesse. I read it multiple times then. The Glass Bead Game was the last of Hesse's books that I read because it intimidated me. It is now the one I remember the most clearly and I really want to read it again. I had dreams of what it would be like to play the game from which the book gets its title.

I read On Beauty just a few years ago when it came out, having admired Zadie Smith's White Teeth but thinking it the work of a writer who was still coming into her abilities. I reread Howards End first and that's definitely the way to most admire the book. A number of my friends disagree with me about Smith and about this book in particular but I think its a hilarious critique of university politics, an accomplished homage to a great book without being merely imitative, and gorgeous controlled writing (unlike her first book which is more reckless and excessive).

I was visiting my college one year after graduating (the only time I have been back in the 24 years since) and staying with my friend Kathleen, who has sadly disappeared from my life. She introduced me to so much literature and music. That very cold visit was all about sweaters, hot tea, Phoebe Snow and May Sarton. I read Kathleen's copy of Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing while on that visit and upon returning to New York went out and bought several other of her books including Shadow of a Man, which was a coming of age story that really suited me at the time. I've since read pretty much everything by Sarton, returning to her Faithful are the Wounds for the Outmoded Authors Challenge.

I discovered The Egypt Game in the P.S. 98 library when I was in either second or third grade. We were on a Zilpha Keatley Snyder kick back then and I also had a group of reading friends who wanted to read all of the Newbery Award winners. I can actually remember the copy of Snyder's The Headless Cupid, voilet colored, with a big gold award seal on the cover and brand new. After that I read The Egypt Game which I enjoyed even more because of the mystery, secret rituals, codes and all those things that I loved when I was around seven years old.

I discovered Richard Powers through reading Three Farmers on the Way to a Dance. Actually, I bought that book shortly after college (I can't remember why) and carted it around with me for years before reading it. I finally did and admired it greatly and then went out and bought The Goldbug Variations in Chicago. I remember parts of it requiring so much concentration to read that I would come to a halt on the stairmaster at the gym. I could either step or read but not both. A book of great intelligence and beauty. I so admire it.

My cousin Sylvia introduced me to Virginia Woolf and by the time we shared an apartment together in Chicago I had become as rabid a fan as she. I have read every word she's written but Orlando and The Waves are the ones I've come back to the most (and Three Guineas). I need to reread The Waves every few years. I is probably among my top five books, maybe my top three. It observes the span of human life, but from the inside out. Brilliant, touching, observant, original. No one previously had done anything like it.

Waiting for the End of the World I found in a used bookshop somewhere, I don't remember whether it was Chicago or New York. There used to be this great bookstore right next door to one of the art movie houses in downtown Chicago. I think it was called Printer's Row. The store is gone now. It's a crazed story - intense. There's a great combination of love and anger in the lead character which really intrigued me. I haven't read again in years. I wonder if I would still be as enthusiastic. Lately I don't have the patience for rereading books or seeing films I've seen again so I probably won't find out.

Thanks for accompanying me on that little stroll down memory lane.


Anonymous said...

You've listed three authors who have been significant favourites of mine in the past - Iris Murdoch I am re-reading, with much pleasure (agree about the film), Hermann Hesse, who is my husband's favourite author still, and Chaim Potok. I loved Mann's The Holy Sinner, too.

Lesley said...

How wonderful to see you list Cloudstreet! Tim Winton is a fabulous author, and this book is phenomenally good.
Plus, it was set in my hometown, and some of the landmarks in the story are still there.
Hesse was big during my hippy years, in the early 70s. I loved them and still have some tattered, musty copies. Just the sight of their cover art takes me right back ...

Ted said...

G - I'm actually not familiar with The Holy Sinner. Given the similarity in our tastes I'm going to have to read it!

L - I'm pretty faithful to Winton. I've read nearly everything he's written and think he is a unique voice but Cloudstreet still stands out as his masterpiece, I think.

Anonymous said...

Great post on many books I consider favorites myself - especially The Waves.

I have never read any of Chekhov's plays. But I love his short stories and go back to them again and again. I will definitely look for one of the plays now.