Sunday, October 06, 2013

Books and Authors and Reading

The New York Times has published a delightful interview with Malcolm Gladwell; it's all about books and authors and reading, and thus is, of course, perfect bait for the bibliophiles in the blogosphere. Rod Dreher has bit on three of the questions from that interview, and so has Noah Millman. So this Sunday afternoon, I think I'll do the same:

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?

Hmm. Since my favorite bookish thing in the whole wide world is to argue politics and ideas with people, it would have to be some philosopher or activist or politician with whom I could lay out, at length, the current political state of this country and Western civilization in general as I understand it, and then let them tear apart me and the U.S Congress and whatever else they think deserves it. But Noah's warnings about choosing a writer that you'd actually like to talk with is important; as much as I'd love to have a conversation with Jean-Jacques Rousseau or Orestes Brownson or G.K. Chesterton or Winston Churchill or Michael Harrington or John Irving about all the above topics, I'm not convinced they'd actually want to talk to me about any of the above. So I'll have to go with one of two great writers who could not only speak with great insight and invective about contemporary politics, but who actually were real conversationalists: either George Orwell (my first choice), or Christopher Lasch. Both would almost certainly think I'm nuts, I suppose, but they'd be willing to explore why I'm nuts, or so I hope.

If you could meet any character from literature, who would it be?

Sam Gamgee, long after the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, after he's served the last of his many terms as mayor of the Shire, after his children and grandchildren have grown and after Rosie has died, but before he left the Red Book behind with Elanor and departed Middle-Earth forever. I would ask him what had been left out of the books--because, you know they couldn't have included everything that happened.

What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed not to have read?

The Brothers Karamazov. I've started, and not completed, this book at least four times, and there is no other book that has been recommended to me more often by more people who I deeply respect as readers. It's probably also the only book (though I suppose I really need to extend this to everything by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, none of which I've read and all of which I feel as though I ought to have) that I actually feel embarrassed not to have read; as a scholar, there's always all sorts of works in political science and theory that I feel a need to read or re-read or just get familiar with, but Karamazov is the only book I've not read for which I feel some actual guilt over.

And you?


Jacob T. Levy said...

Given your politico-religious combination of interests I find the Karamazov omission astonishing. Get to it!

Russell Arben Fox said...

Swell; now Jacob's on my back about it as well. Add him to the list of about 20 others....

Matt said...

Let me say that, unless you really enjoy Dostoyevsky, you should not feel a strong compulsion to read it. (I have read it.) He's obviously a talented writer (though with some really annoying traits, but, I'll claim, highly over-rated as a thinker. The 'philosophy' in the book doesn't really stand up to much criticism, so if you're going to read it, it should be for aesthetic reasons.

(I don't even think that "cultural understanding" reasons for reading it are that strong- better to spend more time reading Shakespeare, or if you want to get a feeling for Russia, Gogol or something.