Thursday, January 5, 2012
My Reading Life
He considers Tolstoy the best writer of all time, and War and Peace the best book on war ever, as well as the best book on peace. "Reading Tolstoy makes us strive to be better people: better husbands and wives, children and friends. ...Once you have read War and Peace, you will never be the same. That is my promise to you." How can you not try War and Peace after reading that?
Probably my favorite chapter is "The Southerner in Paris," where he writes about living in Paris while writing The Lords of Discipline. The streets of Paris, the bridges and the markets, the gardens and cafes, and most of all the French people come alive in his words. It's one of the best descriptions of Paris I have read.
In between his remembrances of the people who have influenced his writing, he talks about his novels, his love of poetry (he starts out every day by reading a poem), the discipline of writing, and what he expects from writing.
"Now, when I pick up a book, the prayer that rises out me is that it changes me utterly and that I am not the man who first selected that book from a well-stocked shelf. Here's what I love: when a great writer turns me into a Jew from Chicago, a lesbian out of South Carolina, or a black woman moving into a subway entrance in Harlem. Turn me into something else, writers of the world. Make me Muslim, heretic, hermaphrodite. Put me into a crusader's armor, a cardinal's vestments. Let me feel the pygmy's heartbeat, the queen's breast, the torturer's pleasure, the Nile's taste, or the nomad's thirst. Tell me everything I must know. Hold nothing back."
I am a sucker for books like this, for anyone who loves reading and likes to write about it. It might be a little too impassioned for some, but it made me want to go get a copy of Anna Karenina.