There’s something voyeuristically thrilling about knowing what other people’s reading habits are. The Reader is a brief interview inspired by the Proust Questionnaire, which was itself inspired by a 19th century party game. We ask readers, writers, publishers and book-lovers everywhere (including our own staff) to answer eleven questions about the books they love, what they have been reading and their literary habits.
Winner of the 2013 New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year while also nabbing the award for Best Young Adult Fiction for his fourth book Into the River, Auckland-based author Ted Dawe surprisingly incited objection from the self-appointed moral police across the country regarding the frank scenes of sex, drug-taking and colourful language in his raw and honest book. Family First’s Bob McCoskrie worried that the book would “pollute the moral innocence of kids,” while Unity Books has been proudly stocking and selling it.
What are you currently reading and how did you discover the book?
I am currently reading The Liars Club by Mary Karr. This is a memoir by an American poet about growing up in West Texas. I discovered this when I bought a new CD by Rodney Crowell called Kin. I thought the lyrics were superior to his usual efforts and found out that they were mostly her work. After reading a couple of paragraphs she had written in the cover notes I was hooked on her style. She had an authentic patois which reminded me of Annie Proulx in Shipping News. Very addictive.
Who are you favourite authors and what do you love about them?
Oooh! Apart from the dead ones; Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Melville, Poe, Simenon, West, Twain, Steinbeck, Dickens, Fielding, Hardy, James, Mansfield, Tolstoy, Waugh, Chekov, Achebe, Wilde, Seuss, Sargeson, Turgenev, Murdoch, Greene, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Colette, Orwell, De Maupassant (you get the idea) I like Cormac McCarthy, Elmore Leonard, Julian Barnes, Thomas Pynchon and J.M. Coetzee.
They speak to me across the years, across cultural lines and linguistic differences. They all live in my head in an immense, riotous party. They are a blueprint for my emotional life and an inspiration for my self-expression. And, as they say in those American TV shows, “Thanks guys, you’ve always been there for me…”
What books are on your bedside table?
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes, The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal, The Liars Club by Mary Karr and The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh.
What is your favourite book to film adaptation?
The Wizard of Oz.
What book have you re-read the most and why?
The Great Gatsby because I used to teach it to my 6th form students and it seemed to reward endless re-readings; never a word out of place.
Who is your favourite literary character?
Samson. That combination of strength and weakness, faith and betrayal all culminating in a self-destructive revenge sequence of cinematic proportions.
What book have you always been meaning to read but still haven’t got around to?
Proust. One day…
Which three writers would you have over for supper?
Hemingway, the explorer Richard Burton and Oscar Wilde.
What would you cook them?
I am not a cook so I would supply the fish and get Hemingway to barbeque it for the rest of us. He seemed to spend a big chunk of his life hauling fish out of the sea, I am sure he would be a great cook. Burton and Wilde could entertain us with blithe banter about Victorian sexuality.
How are your books shelved and organised at home?
They are dictated by the shelf size (I am a bookshelf builder). Big at the bottom (art books etc) small at the top (novels and poetry).