As far as comfort is concerned, I know I will always find the pleasure of laughter when I read David Sedaris. As a writer, he gets better and deeper. Other excellent comic writers always guaranteeing pleasure are Patty Marx and Sloane Crosley. Being funny is not only hard but perhaps the most powerful thing of all.
What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?
“The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense,” by Daniel Menaker. With drawings by the excellent and inspiring Roz Chast. Blunders in language are always delightful to me — unintentional poetry! I also weep as I laugh because this was written by my friend and editor who died this fall and one I hadn’t read when he was alive and it is so hilarious that I wish I could tell him. And also weep as I laugh.
The last book you read that made you cry?
Dorothy Gallagher’s “Stories I Forgot to Tell You.” A slim memoir (love a slim book!) which is a meditation of writing, loving and grief, spoken to her husband Ben Sonnenberg, after his death.
Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?
I like Henry Green’s description of prose as being “an intimacy between strangers.” So I am brought closer to every author I read. And yet neither of us ever knows it.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
That in 1923 wild animals in Tibet approached humans because they were not hunted. That in 1966 Elvis Presley recorded Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” before Bob Dylan released his own version. That in 1914 the chances of a boy in Britain between the ages of 14 and 24 surviving the coming war were one in three.
Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?
Women’s experience. That is, their real experience. Then we would find out if Muriel Rukeyser was right: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”
What moves you most in a work of literature?
The soul speaking.
How do you organize your books?
Books I’ve had for a long time are loosely organized first by type (fiction, poetry, travel, biography, plays), then within that by geography (i.e., country), then by era.