Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Facebook abounds in quizzes. I haven’t yet taken tests to determine which philosopher or movie hero or pop diva I am, nor what city, ethnic food, or personality type. And no one has tagged me to reveal 25 things about myself. But I’m an inveterate list-maker and when I saw this quiz on the page of a facebook friend, I felt an overwhelming desire to appropriate it and give my responses. So, though no one asked me for this, here it is.

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Don DeLillo, I have all his novels: 14.
2) What book do you own the most copies of?
James Joyce’s Ulysses: four
3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not particularly, what’s that about?
4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I’ve gotten over that, but I used to have a major crush on Jessica Swanlake.
5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
James Joyce’s Ulysses, probably up to about ten times, but parts of it many more times.
6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
Gerald Gottlieb’s retelling of the story of Ulysses: The Adventures of Ulysses
7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
The Truth about Lorin Jones by Alison Lurie
8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Diary of a Bad Year by J. M. Coetzee
9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
I’m not tagging anyone, but, I believe that no one should shuffle off this mortal coil without reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, they can even take my class in it if they want help. Apart from that, I’d say everyone should read at least one Dostoevsky novel, Don Quixote, and One Hundred Years of Solitude. But the recent book I’m recommending to everyone is the answer to #8.
10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
I really don’t know or much care. James Joyce never got one, thus invalidating any claim the Prize has to legitimacy, in my view. So I have no real hopes for Thomas Pynchon, my favorite living writer. Coetzee already got it, as did Marquez. I think I’m more inclined to say who should not get it. But if Roth gets it, I'll be pleased.
11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Well, when I was young I wanted to see a movie made of Dostoevsky’s Devils (The Possessed), I even casted it in my mind; I still think it should be possible to do an accurate film of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I’ve given up hope after Branagh's travesty. I tend to like books that are unfilmable, but T. C. Boyle’s Drop City might be fun as a movie.
12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Any of Pynchon’s novels, Ulysses (badly made into a film twice), One Hundred Years of Solitude, just about anything I really like, really.
13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I don’t know about ‘weirdest’ and I don’t remember dreams that well, so I’ll simply cite the most memorable: once in grad school while reading lots of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, Ezra himself appeared in a dream (I think I sorta stumbled upon him sitting somewhere, maybe on campus) and was reciting Cantos, but these were not poems that I’d actually read. When I woke up I could dimly recall some of the lines he recited because, by the end, the lines were simply happening in my own mind. That was pretty weird, come to think of it.
14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
Cover to cover? I mean, I amused myself for awhile in a book café once reading Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg, Barry Williams’ account of being Greg Brady in The Brady Bunch, and, also in that café, skimmed No One Here Gets Out Alive, Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkin’s account of Jim Morrison, which is appallingly bad. In fiction, the award goes to William M. Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Liebowitz, a pretty wretched post-apocalyptic sci-fi tale I actually had to teach as a grad student at Princeton. Ask my daughter about my many pithy and scathing put-downs of the book.
15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Finnegans Wake, which I’ve read three times in its entirety, and parts of it many, many more times.
16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
I haven’t seen many enacted on stage; does the film Titus (of Titus Andronicus) by Julie Taymor count? I also watched a BBC production of Measure for Measure which, while not ‘obscure,’ doesn’t seem to get staged much.
17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
The Russians, at first. Dostoevsky was major for me, from my teens. And Chekhov’s plays. I still need to read War and Peace, though. Proust and Flaubert are two biggies of my twenties, and I want to re-read the Stendhal novels I read so quickly in grad school. And maybe even make it through a couple Balzacs. So, probably the French, since Proust was a three time (in its entirety) read for me. I used to have a saying: there are two kinds of people in this world: those who have read Proust, and those who haven’t.
18) Roth or Updike?
Roth, easily. I’m a major Updike detractor. His stuff really annoys the hell out of me.
19) Hemingway or Faulkner?
Faulkner, the only American novelist that can give Dostoevsky a run for his money.
20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, in that order.
21) Austen or Eliot?
Austen, though Middlemarch might be the greatest single 19th century British novel.
22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I already said it: I haven’t read War and Peace; but I have the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation now and I have resolved to read it this year (my 50th). In English: Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, then probably Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
23) What is your favorite novel?
James Joyce's Ulysses; runners-up are One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez); Gravity’s Rainbow (Pynchon), Lolita (Nabokov), Madame Bovary (Flaubert), The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky); Don Quixote (Cervantes), and, if you count the entire thing as a novel, Proust’s Recherche.
24) Play?
Hamlet, of course, with Macbeth a close second. But I’m also very partial to Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard; Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex; Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia; Tony Kushner’s Angels in America
25) Poem?
All-time favorite poem?? How about some greatest hits? Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn; Keats’ To a Nightingale; Wordsworth’s Intimations Ode; Whitman’s Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking; Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat; Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock; Stevens’ Sunday Morning; Crane’s Broken Tower; Thomas’ Fern Hill; Ashbery’s Soonest Mended
26) Essay?
Not too many essays have burned themselves into my brain, so I’m simply going to say Emerson, and go with the one I’ve assigned to students: Self-Reliance. For more recent essayists, I’ll go with Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. Virginia Woolf is a great essayist but I can’t name a particular favorite. The greatest essayist of alltime, of course, is the inventor of the form: Montaigne.
27) Short story?
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka; or The Dead by James Joyce; I have to admit I’m not much of a short story reader, but collections I’d strongly recommend: Joyce’s Dubliners; Kafka’s Collected Stories; Nabokov’s Dozen (my favorite is Spring in Fialta); and Salinger’s Nine Stories (my favorite is The Laughing Man); recent favorite: the brilliant Pastoralia by George Saunders.
28) Work of non-fiction?
My favorite scholarly work is probably Angus Fletcher’s Allegory: Theory of a Symbolic Mode; my favorite biography is James Joyce by Richard Ellmann; favorite work of reportage: Michael Herr’s Dispatches; memoir: Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking; for cultural history, a recent read I really enjoyed: Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America by Jonathan Gould; for world history, any of the series by Eric Hobsbawm.
29) Who is your favorite writer?
James Joyce, obviously.
30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
I would’ve said John Updike, but he recently died. So... probably Stephen King, in the sense that he has great commercial success and is starting to be taken more ‘seriously’; otherwise, the insufferably prolific Joyce Carol Oates
31) What is your desert island book?
Probably Ulysses; I would set out to memorize the entire thing, then eat the book. But I might actually prefer The Complete Shakespeare.
32) And ... what are you reading right now?
I’m about to begin War and Peace, seriously. I’m in the midst of Gogol’s St. Petersberg stories, D. A. Powell’s Chronic (poems), Allen Grossman’s The Ether Dome (poems), and have gotten not too far yet in Stephen Greenblatt’s biography of Shakespeare: Will in the World, but am better than halfway through Walter Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe.


Tobias Boes said...

You had a crush on a Pynchon character? Were you at least tripping on LSD at the time?

Though now that I think about it, Oedipa Maas *was* pretty foxy too...

Donald Brown said...

Not at that moment of reading, no, but in the general period, yeah. But I have to admit I like TP's women; he writes them with the degree of 'male fantasy' elements that most writers prefer to avoid. Roth, for all his salivating over women, has never managed one I'd salivate over.

But I almost wrote Jane Eyre. Anyone who can express herself that well is immediately sexy to me!