By the Book: Erik Lundegaard
Sunday, the New York Times Book Review intereviewed Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Blink,” “Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” etc., about his taste in literature. It's a fun read.
Here are my answers to most of the questions they asked him.
What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
George W.S. Trow's “My Pilgrim's Progress: 1959-1998.” But it's hardly a new book. I'm always behind.
Which writers do you find yourself returning to again and again — reading every new book and rereading the old?
I don't know if there is anybody anymore. I keep returning to writers until I don't: Vonnegut until “Galapagos,” Roth until “Everyman,” Kundera until “Ignorance,” Irving until “A Widow for One Year.” When did I lose Doctorow? Some time in the '90s. But I keep rereading all of them. For a time, I measured how far I'd come by my latest reading of “The World According to Garp” but I haven't done that in 10 years. I've been looking over Roth recently. The Zuckerman trilogy. Salinger, too, but that was for the doc on him.
Actually, you know who I keep returning to these days? Joe Posnanski.
Did you identify with any fictional characters as a child? Who was your literary hero?
Holden Holden Holden. Before that, Peter Parker. Before that, Joe Hardy of the Hardy Boys. Before that, Danny of “Danny and the Dinosaur.”
So I guess my literary heroes were F.W. Dixon, until I found out he wasn't real; Stan Lee, whom I met in 1975; then J.D. Salinger. Then off to the races.
In general, what kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of?
I don't read much genre fiction. It does nothing for me. I get two pages in and think, “Who cares?”
As I've aged, I read more nonfiction. At lunchtime I like reading about baseball as a kind of palate cleanser. At night, anything. I want things explained. I want arguments and ammunition. Sometimes I feel like I'm prepping for a battle that will probably never come.
What’s the last book to make you laugh out loud? To cry? And the last book that made you angry?
I get mad reading blogs more than books but I got pretty angry reading “Shipwrecked: A People's History of the Seattle Mariners”; through no fault of author Jon Wells.
I don't know about the last book but Bill Bryson makes me laugh out loud like nobody's business, and I don't think I ever cried harder than reading the last pages of “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I was at a noodle shop in Taipei, Taiwan, before teaching an ESL class, and, despite everyone around me, despite the bustle, tears just welled up in my eyes and wouldn't stop.
What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
I don't know. I've got tons of literature: Baldwin, Capote, DeLillo, Doctorow, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Irving, Joyce, Kundera, Mailer, Morrison, Orwell, Roth, Salinger, Tolstoy, Updike, Vidal, Vonnegut, Wolff. I've got an entire shelf of baseball books. I've got books on movies, comic books, Superman, politics. Is anyone surprised yet?
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
I guess Michael Lewis' “The Big Short,” but I hope he's already read it. Would “A Confederacy of Dunces” help with Congress? I also woundn't mind George W.S. Trow's “Within the Context of No Context.” Just for his thoughts.
What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I should like Michael Chabon more than I do. I should be pulled into his world more easily. Maybe 30 years ago, I would have. I didn't finish “Kavalier and Clay,” for example. I keep meaning to return to it.
If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
Shakespeare, to find out how he did it. Or maybe Matthew, Mark, Luke or John: to know what they know.
If you could meet any character from literature, who would it be?
My first thought was Caddy, who smells like leaves. My second thought was Holden, to tell him it gets better. But I guess I'll go with Buddy Glass. Over beers.
What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed not to have read?
Like Leonard Zelig, I've never read “Moby Dick.” I've also never read “The Scarlett Letter.” No Chaucer and very little Plato. I'm surprised they let me graduate with a degree in English literature.
What do you plan to read next?
Maybe Salman Rushdie's “Joseph Anton.” Maybe Emily Bickerton's “A Short History of Cahiers Du Cinema.” I've got a stack waist high next to my book shelf. Literally. It admonishes me daily. It tells me, “You are a very bad reader.”
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