By Jeana Conder
Several months ago I set out on the task of asking local writers to answer a series of eight questions I compiled. The responses I received are now creating our newest series, “From the Mouth of Writers.” We hope that this series allows upcoming writers to gain knowledge from others with the same passion.
This month’s question: What is your favorite book?
My favorite book of all time is To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. Part of my loving that book has to do with my having read it for the first time long ago with a very good English teacher, who I also loved, but I’ve gone back to it again and again, and I find it increasingly gorgeous and moving. Also, I happen to be thinking about Woolf today. If you had asked me the same question yesterday I might have said, Ragtime by E.L Doctorow. If you had asked me the question last Sunday I might have said Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro. I’ve got a lot of favorite books. Have you got six or seven hours?
That’s a terrible question. To single out one book out of many is like having to make Sophie’s Choice. William Kloefkorn’s Alvin Turner As Farmer and Dave Etter’s Alliance, Illinois were very influential in the 80s as I started publishing. Later it was Ursula K. Le Guin’s poetry and prose, particularly Always Coming Home which combines poetry and fiction to tell a story about a post-apocalyptic Northern California. Right now my favorite book is Mary Oliver’s book of short essays Blue Pastures, which is an intimate look at the writing process.
Maybe, the next one I read.
I don’t think I could identify a favorite. I have lots of favorites. I’m currently reading a lot of ancient history—the silk roads, the Vikings, the Mongols, Rome. Fascinating stuff. Part of our national problem, I think, is how quickly we seem to forget everything. We’re like a country of amnesiacs, wandering around without any landmarks. No wonder we seem so lost.
My favorite book, without question, is Middlemarch, by George Eliot. I've read it seven or eight times, at least, and every time I love it as much or more than ever before. It's a book that you can grow with; you'll relate to different characters at twenty-two than you do at thirty-two (and presumably forty-two, and fifty-two, and sixty-two, though I haven't gotten to those ages yet). Middlemarch is set in the 1830s, but the dilemmas the characters face, the compromises they make, the flaws they display, the contradictions they encompass—it's all as relevant to me, today, as any book set in the modern period. As a writer, I admire George Eliot's perspective and voice in the novel--it's a grand, nineteenth-century narrator, not afraid to soliloquize or make pronouncements or philosophize. As a reader, I feel like these characters are friends I'm always happy to meet again, every time I open the book.
The Translator by Ward Just.
My favorite book is the novel The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard, an Australian author who unfortunately passed away in December of 2016, not long after the Irish-living in-England author William Trevor. It was a rough time for me as a reader. Hazzard is my favorite writer, without comparison, and the novel my absolute ideal. The novel tells the story of sisters, Caro and Grace Bell, tracking their lives from their orphaning in childhood through the separate paths their adult lives take, while also tracking a number of people in their lives: a prisoner of war from the Second World War, a playwright and his troubled son, a member of the United Nations, an astronomer, and the sisters’ troubled, delightfully and accidentally villainous aunt. But it is also a novel so beautifully written, so intricately plotted, and so transcendently wise and engrossing that each time I return to the book, I learn something new about how to write, and how to read. (Though for sheer repeat-ability, I would also include George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and White Teeth, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and all of Alice Munro’s work.)
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote. I read it nearly every spring. I have read all of his work. He is a master and very underappreciated. He saw humans and nature and love and hate and all the in-betweens with such clarity and openness and pain.
There are too many favorites. The Old Man and the Sea is a standby, for sure. Also, East of Eden. This is an impossible question to answer.
Anything by Anne Lamott
That’s a very hard question to answer because I have many but if I had to choose one it would be The Constant Gardner by John le Carré.