Unity Books Wellington spoke with Alex Ross ahead of his event with Bianca Andrew and Stroma at Shed 6.
Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996. His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His second book is the essay collection Listen to This. He is now at work on Wagnerism: Art in the Shadow of Music. Ross has received an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Belmont Prize in Germany, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
At the moment I am reading Impossible Owls, a forthcoming book by my friend Brian Phillips — a brilliant collection of travelogues and personal essays, ranging from Alaska to India to deepest Oklahoma.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
A few of the writers to whom I feel closest: Thomas Mann, Wallace Stevens, Willa Cather, James Joyce. It’s difficult to define what it is about them that I love — each encloses an entire world, whether real or imagined.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. I am reading it very slowly, a couple of pages before bed each night, because I don’t want it to end.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Mann’s Doctor Faustus. I first read it when I was 18, and it had an overwhelming effect on me — it revealed the deranged power of 20th-century music.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
Father Latour in Death Comes for the Archbishop.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR SUPPER?
Willa Cather, Oscar Wilde, and Richard Wagner. Hilarity ensues!
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
I cannot cook, but Oscar will surely know someone.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
More or less by subject: music, American literature, European literature, history, and so on.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
Karl Kraus: “You don’t even live once.”
(author photo credit: David Michalek)