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Posts Tagged ‘My Antonia’

John Jeremiah Sullivan Answers Your Questions

August 31, 2012 | by

This week, our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, stepped in to address your queries.

Dear Paris Review,

I live in the deep south and was raised in a religious cult.

Still with me?

Okay. I’m attempting to throw off the shackles of my religious upbringing and become an intelligent well-informed adult. My primary source of rebellion thus far has been movies. I would watch a Fellini movie and then feel suddenly superior to my friends and family because they only watched movies in their native tongue (trust me I know how pathetic this is). My main question involves my reading selections. Obviously, I have stumbled upon your publication and am aware of its status as the primary literary periodical in English. Also, I have a brand-new subscription to the New York Review of Books, since it is apparently the intellectual center of the English-speaking universe. I am not in an M.F.A. program or living in Brooklyn working on the Great American Kindle Single, I’m just a working-class guy trying to take part in the conversation that all the smart people are having. This brings me to my question: What books should I read? There are so many books out there worth reading, that I literally don’t know where to start. To give you some background info: I was not raised as a reader and was not taught any literature in the Christian high school that I attended. What kinds of books do I like? My answer to that would be movies. I’m desperate to start some kind of grand reading plan that will educate me about the world but don’t know where to start. The classics? Which ones? Modern stuff? Should I alternate one classic with one recent book? How much should I read fiction? How much should I read nonfiction? I went to college but it was for nursing, so I have never been taught anything about reading by anybody.

I realize this stuff may be outside of your comfort zone, as most of the advice questions seem to be from aspiring writers or college-educated people. Please believe me when I say that I am out of touch with the modern world because of a very specific religious cult. I want to be an educated, well-read, cultured, critically thinking person but need some stuff to read. Before I end this letter, I’ll provide an example of just how out of touch I am: you know how "Ms." is the non-sexist way to refer to a woman, and that "Mrs." is sexist? Yeah, I just found out about that. I’m twenty-five.

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Reading On the Road; Fiction for a Father-in-law

March 16, 2012 | by

My father-in-law, a fiercely intelligent Irishman in his late sixties, has just been diagnosed with cancer. As he is facing a long period of being confined to quarters, I'd like to send him some books to help pass the time. However, he has candidly admitted to me that his concentration is not what it once was, and he finds reading anything of extended length quite difficult. Would you have any suggestions—collections of short pieces of fiction, or tales, personal essays, travel memoirs, for example—that might be suitable? When he’s feeling like his usual self, he enjoys reading Brian Moore and John Banville, outsmarting Stephen Fry on reruns of Qi, and finishing the Irish Times cryptic crossword in half the time it takes me to struggle through the Simplex.

With thanks,
amrh

Your father-in-law sounds great. You might ask whether he’s read Brian Moore’s novella Catholics. It’s a very short read, recently back in print: he may have missed it the first time. It happens to have been a favorite of David Foster Wallace; from your description, I wonder if your father-in-law might enjoy Wallace’s essays (either A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again or Consider the Lobster) or my colleague John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead. (Read his recent essay on Ireland if you’d like a preview.) Or Geoff Dyer’s essays, as for example Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It. These are all witty essayists I read when my attention flickers low. Along the same lines, Sadie suggests Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia and Malachy McCourt’s very breezy but entertaining memoir A Monk Swimming.

Does your father-in-law have any interest in Russia? For sheer storytelling, I recommend Ken Kalfus’s PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies or any collection by Alice Munro (I won’t bother recommending William Trevor). You mention tales; it’s an obvious one, but I’ve found Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales good sickbed reading. For travel writing, maybe Richard Holmes’s Footsteps or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes?

We wish him a speedy recovery!

I’m looking for a couple of good books—novels or short stories—to read aloud with my boyfriend as we drive from Arizona up through the Badlands to a new start in New York. (We are not—not quite—as young and idealistic as that sentence makes us sound.) What would you recommend?

We like your style.

I suggest you keep a few books going at once, so you can switch around according to the driver’s—and the reader’s—mood. Thus, in no particular order, My Antonia, Denis Johnson’s Angels, True Grit, Last Evenings On Earth, American Purgatorio, any of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels, and The White Hotel. All have a good strong voice, requiring no acrobatics on the reader’s part, most have something to do with travel, and all of them clip along. Sadie points out that the Victorians tend to be good for reading aloud—maybe the Palliser series?—and suggests the stories in Daphne du Maurier’s Don't Look Now. (She also proposed Another Roadside Attraction—and collapsed in giggles, for reasons best known to herself.) Read More »

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