My friend Liz Stott, who knows me all too well, asked me for a list of the last ten books I’ve read. So I obsessed over that for 36 hours, and thought of way to quantify my choices. The most important being: this is New York. Unless it’s a special occasion or research or a must-have, I don’t buy books. Free books are all over. Books in the public domain are often, not always, available on the web. And when all else fails, I go to the 79th Street branch of the library.
So, here goes. I am in the midst of reading The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (I was approached years ago to do an adaptation of The Master and Margarita, so I’m familiar with Bulgakov), and for research, The History of Irish Catholics in Cleveland. Last week I read Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, Kiss Me, Kate by Sam & Bella Spewack and Balanchine by Robert Gottlieb. Lately, I’ve read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (really wonderful); and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (I’d never read any Faulkner- I was told in prep school I was too stupid to understand it- and now I’m simply underwhelmed). My sister-in-law, Joan Rater, has a beautiful essay in Afterbirth: Stories You Won’t Find in a Patenting Magazine, edited by Dani Klein Modisett.
There is a wonderful book that my friends Harrington Wells, Julian Christenberry and Beth Christenberry gave me for my birthday last year, about Brooklyn’s literati in the 1940s, February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America by Sherrill Tippins. Tippins is no great stylist, but the stories are fascinating. Lucy & Desi: The Legendary Love Story of Television's Most Famous Couple by Warren G. Harris came out of my boyfriend’s garage. Again, not beautiful prose but much of the information is interesting, not the least of which is picturing J. Edgar Hoover and Desi at the track together.
A book I found on the street is The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong. I think this is by far the best comp religion book I’ve ever read. And even though it’s a long book (I read it for much of Lent), I schlepped it back and forth to Manhattan on the subway. All those unanswered questions that Armstrong finally answers: when do the Jews really become monotheists (later than you might think)? What is the nature of a religious sacrifice ritual before Abraham and Isaac? Plus Indian and Chinese religions, and Islam. When I went to LA on vacation in June, I brought Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks (about a Scottish woman in the French Resistance) and Prague by Arthur Phillips, about American expats in Budapest in the 1990s. My new favorite novel is Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, in a new translation by the estimable Michael Hofmann, about Berlin in the 1940s.