As I was reading the daily Shelf Awareness Listserve digest today, I discovered that Ivan Doig and I have the same taste in books, though he grew up reading comic books and I grew up reading fiction and science fiction. He's 21 years older than I am, and obviously an author of fine literature, but I was fascinated by his responses to Book Brahmins queries. It was especially gratifiying to read that he loves William Faulkner and Isak Dinesen as much as I do...obviously a man of taste.
Book Brahmins: Ivan Doig
Ivan Doig was born in Montana in 1939 and grew up along the Rocky
Mountain Front, the dramatic landscape that has inspired much of his
writing. A recipient of a lifetime Distinguished Achievement Award from
the Western Literature Association, he is the author of eight previous
novels, most recently The Whistling Season, and three works of
nonfiction, including This House of Sky. His latest book is The Eleventh
Man, to be published October 18 by Harcourt. He lives in Seattle.
On your nightstand now:
The King's English by Betsy Burton. Adventures in bookselling by Salt
Lake City's La Pasionara of literature.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Comic books. When we would come to town from ranch work on Saturday
night, my dad would empty all the dimes and nickels out of his pocket,
and I would race to the drugstore to buy "funny books." Funny or
outlandish ("Amazing!" usually blood-red on the cover), they lit my
imagination in the total absence of children's classics in our
tumbleweed way of life. And I can still tell when a comic-strip
cartoonist is vamping it and when the drawn lines thrum with blood from
Your top five authors:
William Faulkner, for the unvanquished audacity of his language and
characterizations. Isak Dinesan: her delicately sly handling of magic
and romance brings out the fabulous in human fables. Ismail Kadare, who
outlasted the Iron Curtain nightmare that was Albania to give us such
profoundly universal novels as Chronicle in Stone, The Palace of Dreams
and The Three-Arched Bridge. Pablo Neruda, poet of Chile and the world,
for showing us what an infinite prism is metaphor. Linda Bierds, blessed
poet not of self but of selves, with an uncanny ability to rove history
in bell-clear tones.
Book you've always meant to finish reading:
Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer. This epic of political involvement
during the apartheid era in South Africa is intricate at all levels and
at its most intense and Dostoevskian, I tend to put the book down like
something glowing mysteriously and vow to come back to it when it and I
Book you're an evangelist for:
The All of It by Jeannette Haien. It's a pocket miracle, partly an Irish
A River Runs Through It, partly a love story of the most heart-aching
sort, and thoroughly stunning in its command of language.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Wind, Sand and Stars. The Paul Bacon Studio's 1967 paperback artwork for
Antoine de Saint Exupery's meditations on flying, a lone small biplane
in the center of the cover with a swatch of the Andes emerging above,
still seems to be perfect. No way could I have guessed that Paul later
would become part of American consciousness with a very different piece
of art, that ever-rising shark on the cover of Jaws, and that starting
with my first book, This House of Sky, his inimitable inventiveness
would grace five of my covers.
Book that changed your life:
Solitude by Anthony Storr. One of the oddest aspects of being a writer
is having to sit around in your own head all the time, watching things
flit through the twilight of the mind as you try to figure out--was that
a bat that just flew past? Or the whispering ghost of Shakespeare? This
Oxford clinical psychologist's validation of creative aloneness, "a
valuable integrating process which, like meditation or prayer, has
little to do with other people," brought me the relief and understanding
that the lonesome work of writing is itself a legitimate companion.
Favorite line from a book:
So many, so many. I'll stick with the opening line of A Farewell to
Arms, perhaps not even Ernest Hemingway's best, but rhythmically sinuous
enough that I always use it for a microphone check: "In the late summer
of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the
river and the plain towards the mountains."
Book that makes you sit up and ask, "Where did this come from?"
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. Grandee of Yale, prize-winning
poet, Southern gentleman of letters, Warren used his witnessing of the
Huey Long political regime in Louisiana to go on a spree of prose that
anticipates Jack Kerouac, a decade ahead of On the Road. As a novel,
King's Men tries to tell too many stories at once--it stops and broods
at the drop of a vote, plotwise it's pretty much a mess--but on almost
any given page, it makes you pop your eyelids and think, whoa, this is
what writing can do?
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle. Maximally raunchy as it is, Doyle's tale
of young Dublin layabouts tuning themselves up into a Motown-style band
is a tour de force of dialogue. Beyond that, he brings off the terrific
aural stunt of getting the sounds of the the Commitments and their
female backup singers, the Commitmentettes, onto the page, music by way
of the eye to ear. ("The horns:--DUUH-DU DUHH-DUUH DU DUHH-") Rapid
magic, Brother Doyle.