Junot Díaz: By the Book

In a recent interview in the Sunday Book Review of The New York Times, Junot Díaz shared his reading list past, present and future. [Many thanks to our colleague David Labiosa for sharing this with us.] Here are excerpts of the interview with a link to the full article below:

[. . .] If someone really wanted to understand the Dominican Republic, and the Dominican-American experience, what books would you suggest? That’s a tough one. We need a lot more books in English about the Dominican experience. Fortunately the field is growing, and there’s some good stuff out there. I recommend one start with one of the country’s greatest poets, Pedro Mir, his “Countersong to Walt Whitman and Other Poems.” Pure genius. Then read Ginetta Candelario’s “Black Behind the Ears” for a superbly guided journey through the complexities of Dominican racial identity. Also Frank Moya Pons’s “The Dominican Republic: A National History” is excellent, and so is Julia Alvarez’s novel “In the Time of the Butterflies.”

What’s the last truly great book you read? Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.” A book of extraordinary intelligence, humanity and (formalistic) cunning. Boo’s four years reporting on a single Mumbai slum, following a small group of garbage recyclers, have produced something beyond groundbreaking. She humanizes with all the force of literature the impossible lives of the people at bottom of our pharaonic global order, and details with a journalist’s unsparing exactitude the absolute suffering that undergirds India’s economic boom. [. . .] In fiction, though, the ‘last truly great book’ I read has to be Alejandro Zambra’s “Bonsai.” A subtle, eerie, ultimately wrenching account of failed young love in Chile among the kind of smartypant set who pillow-talk about the importance of Proust. You get the cold flesh of the story in that chilling first line: “In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death.” But only by reading to the end do you touch the story’s haunted soul. A total knockout.

Among the many books on your shelves are “What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction,” by Paul Kincaid; “Shikasta,” by Doris Lessing; “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún,” by J. R. R. Tolkien; and “By Night in Chile,” by Roberto Bolaño. Can you tell us about any of those books — what you thought of them, what they meant to you? Tolkien I grew up on, fed my insatiable Ungoliant-like hunger for other worlds; I was a young fan and yet, even as an adult, I continue to wrestle with Tolkien for reasons that have much to do with growing up in the shadow of my own Dark Lord — that’s what some dictators really become in the imagination of the nations they afflict. “Shikasta” was a book I used to see at the library a lot when I was growing up but which finally came into my hands when I was in college. A strange anti-novel that purports to be the history of our world from the perspective of our sympathetic alien caretakers. “Shikasta” takes that sub-zeitgeist “theory” that God and his angels are actually alien visitors to its logical conclusion. [. . .] As for Bolaño, what can one say? One of our greatest writers, a straight colossus. Is there really anything in print even remotely approaching “By Night in Chile”? For anyone like me obsessed with the interplay between the personal and the historical, “By Night in Chile” is a master class in which Bolaño manages to distill the perverse brutal phantasmagorical history of an entire continent down to 150 seductive pages. A halfhearted priest secretly teaching Marxism to Pinochet so the demon general might better know his enemy? Latin American letters (wherever it may reside) has never had a greater, more disturbing avenging angel than Bolaño.

[Illustration above by Jillian Tamaki.]

For full interview, see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/books/review/junot-diaz-by-the-book.html?pagewanted=all

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