What’s your favorite book that no one else has heard of?
“Suicide”, by the French writer Edouard Levé. This book dug a small hole in my heart. Told in the voice of “you” and addressed to a friend who committed suicide 20 years earlier, the novel is a meditation on both the life of the deceased friend and the act of suicide itself, as well as a farewell note from the author, who took his own life 10 days after returning the manuscript, to himself and to us, the reader. Through an accumulation of small, obsessive details, “you” slowly emerges as a thoughtful, lonely, troubled man who can no longer bear to be in the world. The language is beautiful and uncluttered, deceptively simple, exact in precision. I have never read anything like it. It is, one might say, the ultimate work of autofiction.
Which writers – novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets – working today do you most admire?
I’ll read anything from Rachel Cusk, who does some of the most interesting work of any writer, and Katie Kitamura, whose recent novel “Intimacy” is both elegant and beautiful – these phrases – and psychologically annoying. She’s an absolutely brilliant writer. Other writers whose work I admire: Colson Whitehead, Mohsin Hamid, Jamaica Kincaid, David Szalay and Deborah Levy, especially her Living Autobiography trilogy. For the pure inventiveness of the form, the short stories by David Means. I would do anything to read a new short story by Julie Hecht, which gets my vote for funniest writer. I am very interested in the plays of Will Eno, master of the profound and the absurd. Also, the work of Wallace Shawn. For thoughtful commentary on the race: Claudia Rankine, Cathy Park Hong, Ta-Nehisi Coates. And the wonderfully irreverent journalist Jay Caspian Kang, who tells it like it is.
Do you consider certain books as guilty pleasures?
I’m reading one right now — “L’Anomalie,” by French author Hervé Le Tellier, about a mysterious plane flight whose passengers seem to exist in two different realities. It’s very “Black Mirror”. I don’t know what makes a book a guilty pleasure, but you sure know it when you read one.
Which writers are particularly good at mother-daughter relationships?
No one describes the passionate bond between mothers and daughters more bluntly, or with more honesty, intelligence and style, than Vivian Gornick in her memoir “Fierce Attachments.”