What Are You Reading?
In which we ask New York's most publicly literate about their reading choices.
How are you liking Philip Roth so far?
Well, I've only read like, five pages.
What other Philip Roth have you read?
I've read a few of his Zuckerman novels, the trilogy. Exit Ghost, Portnoy's Complaint.
Portnoy's Complaint is a good one. I never wanted to eat liver again after reading that.
Roth is considered one of those "best living writers," along with Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Cormac McCarthy. Have you read anything by those guys?
I read The Road by McCarthy. I liked it. It's a totally different style.
Did you find the end depressing or uplifting?
Hmm. Good question. I thought it was uplifting. The rest of it was so grim that the end kind of had to be, I guess.
What's the last great book you read?
It's been awhile. I really liked Solar by Ian McEwan. It's about solar technology.
That one was famous because of the scene where the guy's penis freezes off, right? Was that hard to read?
No, I thought it was hilarious, actually.
Where are you from? I can hear a bit of an accent.
I'm from Norway — Oslo.
Do you read more in Norwegian or English translations?
Mostly Norwegian, actually. I usually read all the classics in Norwegian. And Norwegian novels as well. I prefer reading English literature in English.
Knut Hamsun is Norwegian, right?
Yes. I read a few of his books. In English it's probably called… Hunger, right?
Yeah, great book! What did you think?
I liked it a lot. It's one of our classics. I read it in high school.
How important is it that someone you date be a reader?
Well, they should at least be open to it. I should probably read a lot more than I do.
Is there a book that you find coming back to you the most in your everyday life?
That's a tough one. Now that I'm here in New York, probably Catcher in the Rye. I read it last time I was here, so it brings back a lot of memories of just walking around the city.
You're reading Proust in French. Is that for a French class?
Yeah, it's not for fun.
There are neuroscientists who say Proust knew a lot about memory from a scientific standpoint — stuff that hadn't been discovered yet. Do you think there's truth in that?
Yeah, I definitely think so. There's several descriptions of memory in this book. Oh man, it's like I'm studying for my final here! There's the theory of memory — a spatial description of memory — how time is actually like a spatial thing that can be connected like a map, with people as points on the map. Or the whole theory of involuntary memory: we forget things, but they're still within us; you can re-experience a certain memory or certain place in time later in your life. I think it kind of explains déjà vu. There's lots of interesting theories in there.
What's a book you find yourself thinking about a lot?
I really like 100 Years of Solitude.
Is there a specific moment from that book you find yourself thinking about a lot?
This is so bizarre.
Thanks. I try.
One of the sisters — when she was a baby she would always eat dirt, so, as an adult, whenever she's stressed out, she'll eat a bunch of dirt and throw it up. It makes her feel better.
What's the last book that you read?
I just read an essay collection for school called Thoughts of Sorts, the essays of George Perec. He writes by listing, so instead of doing just narrative prose, he thinks of the subject and divides it into categories, and then makes a list of things he thinks about the category. His style is very compelling.
I see you're reading Hemingway.
Yeah, I like reading outdoors on my lunch break. Outdoor scenery is nicer than indoor scenery. There's pretty girls all over the place. It's like a pet store with girls.
Has a girl ever come up and commented on your Hemingway?
The last book I had of his was True at First Light, but I left that with my ex-girlfriend in Boston, and then I moved away. I think she stole it. That's my only experience with girls and Hemingway at the moment.
What's the last great book you've read?
Probably Pulp, by Charles Bukowski. He wrote it while he was dying and you can kind of tell. He just said, "Fuck everything, I'll write whatever I want." There are space aliens involved.
And Death is actually a character.
Yeah, Lady Death. She sounds pretty attractive. He just didn't give a shit in his last few months, but somehow it made a wonderful book.
Are there any other books you think are interesting based on what you know about the author's life while they were writing it?
Yeah, I actually really like Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell. It's based on his early life, being poor and just traveling around living day to day, making money, trying to eat. Shockingly similar to my life now in New York. I'm not as eclectic, but as poor.
If you could date any literary character, who would it be?
I'm kind of in love with Catherine from A Farewell to Arms. I think she sounds… honestly, it obviously wasn't Hemingway's intention, but she's kind of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She's a nurse, but doesn't have her shit together. That's kind of what I like in girls. Or any of Bukowski's women.
Would you date Chinaski if he were a woman?
Yeah, that would be great. We'd just drink all night. And occasionally write.