If you weren’t at our last book swap party, you’re probably still recovering from the grief, disappointment and emptiness you feel at having missed the literary event of the year, and we don’t blame you. It’s time, though, to dry your tears, because Black Balloon Publishing is having another book swap party on Saturday, May 10. The same rules (i.e. bring a beloved book to trade with a stranger and don’t be a dick) apply as last time, but for this swap, we’re throwing down at The Astoria Bookshop at 5 P.M. and Kevin Clouther, author of our forthcoming collection of short stories We Were Flying to Chicago, will be there trading copies of his new book! There will be literature-loving friends to be made, wine to be drank and, of course, books to be swapped.
If you’re one of New York’s lucky, enlightened readers who managed to make it to our last book swap party, you might be worried about having already shown off your favorite book. To that we say: Who cares? Buy another copy and support your favorite local book store! But for those who want to do something different, here’s a list of contemporary authors’ treasured classics — the books we suspect they would bring to our book swap party were they to come. If you’re in need of a swap-savvy suggestion, consider bringing one of these authors’ beloved books. Who knows, one of them just might show up and catch you with a copy of their favorite novel!
1. Dave Eggers: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
Nausea is a novel about a downcast historian struggling with existential questions, to which he finds answers like, “I do not think therefore I am a mustache.” Eggers called it “strangely invigorating,” describing the reading experience as “near-religious.”
2. Zadie Smith: Michel de Montaigne: The Complete Essays
Montaigne’s work is considered to be the precursor to the modern essay; he meditates on important subjects with cheery titles like, “That Men by Various Ways Always Arrive at the Same End” and “Of Cannibals.” “You can just dip in at any point and find something essential,” Smith said of his collection, but admits that, while brilliant, Montaigne might have not been the most concise of writers. “One for the e-reader?” she suggests.
3. Jhumpa Lahiri: The Novels of Thomas Hardy
Declaring Hardy her favorite novelist, Lahiri said of his work: “Ever since I first read him, in high school, I’ve felt a kinship with his characters, his sense of place, his pitiless vision of humanity.” If you want to book swap like Lahiri, you’ll bring a copy of one of Hardy’s novels to our party, but also keep one for yourself, as Lahiri said, “I continue to reread him as often as I can.”
4. Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlemarch by George Eliot
Eugenides called Eliot’s novel about the goings-on of the fictional town Middlemarch during the early 1830s “very witty and super intelligent.” The title of Eugenides’s book Middlesex bears an obvious resemblance to that of Eliot’s, but there’s also a slightly less obvious influence: “The character of Casaubon, the scholar who can never finish the book he is working on, was a frightening example to me of what might happen if I never finished Middlesex,” Eugenides explained.
5. Kazuo Ishiguro: Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
Right Ho, Jeeves is the second in the comedic Jeeves series by Wodehouse, chronicling the adventures of Bertie Wooster and his valet, Reginald Jeeves. “It’s hard to say why this is great literature,” Ishiguro admitted, but explained that “Wodehouse does make you believe (at least momentarily) in a world where trivial problems have the status of huge ones, and the huge ones have vanished altogether.” Given the serious nature of Ishiguro’s work — his novel Never Let Me Go isn’t exactly light reading — it’s understandable that he would call Wodehouse’s work “pure delight.”
6. Joyce Carol Oates: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Dostoevsky’s classic novel “had an enormous effect on me,” Oates said. Balking at the thought of bringing such a heavy — both literally and figuratively — book to our party? Oates would do it. “I think young people today might not realize how readable that novel is,” she suggested. We might not all have the reading capabilities of one of America’s greatest writers, but at least you can try (or pretend you do by bringing a copy of Crime and Punishment to the party).
7. Salman Rushdie: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
“Kindly consider the question,” Bulgakov writes in The Master and Margarita, “what would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?” It’s no wonder then that the 1967 novel is one of those that Rushdie — who famously said, “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist” — listed as his favorites. Bulgakov’s novel tells the story of the Devil’s visit to the Soviet Union. It’s been cited as one of the inspirations behind Rushdie’s own The Satanic Verses, so whether you want to swap or write like Rushdie, you probably want to pick up Bulgakov’s book.
8. Michael Chabon: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
Chabon said it best when he described Borges’s collection as stories that “read like episodes of The Twilight Zone as written by a metaphysician.” Labyrinths contains classics like “The Library of Babel,” a story that constructs the universe in the form of a library. Borges’s writing, which Chabon calls “simultaneously philosophical and nightmarish,” often includes references to mathematics, so if you trade for this short story collection, you might want to go easy on our wine while you read it.
9. Junot Diaz: Shikasta by Doris Lessing
“Alien ethnographic reports on our Old Testament history mixed with cranky letters home by overworked alien bureaucrats and a moving realistic journal written by a young Lessing-like teenager living in Africa in the years before a worldwide youth revolt — bananas stuff,” Diaz told The New York Times of science fiction writer Lessing’s novel, Shikasta. If that description doesn’t convince you that this book is swap-worthy, nothing will.
10. Jonathan Franzen: Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
To be fair, Milne’s work isn’t Franzen’s favorite book of all time, just his childhood one. Still, it’s pretty funny that the man who was heartless enough to diss Oprah spent his youth cuddling up to classics about talking animals. “This seems a little strange now,” the author admitted, “given that ... my parents didn’t let me have any pets except for hamsters and turtles, which I didn’t love, and which were always dying on me.” Maybe swapping a book from the Winnie the Pooh series with Franzen is the secret way to his Twitter-hating heart? (Probably not.)
Did any of these authors’ favorite novels surprise you? Have you read — or swapped! — any of these books before? Now that you know about the Winnie the Pooh love of Franzen's youth, doesn’t he look a bit like Eeyore?
Don’t tell us what you’re bringing to our second book swap party, just show up and surprise us! And if you want to secretly take a cue from one of these authors and pretend you just happen to love Shikasta as much as Junot Diaz does, don’t worry, your secret’s safe with us. See you Saturday, May 10!
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
(Image credits, from top: Wikimedia, New Directions, Penguin, Penguin, Random House, Penguin, Wikimedia, Penguin, Faber & Faber, The Russian Wodehouse Society, HarperCollins, Amazon, Wikimedia, Amazon, Amazon, New Directions, Penguin, Doris Lessing, Wikimedia, Penguin)
This blog post about beloved books is brought to you by We Were Flying to Chicago, Black Balloon Publishing’s forthcoming collection of short stories by Kevin Clouther, who will be at our book swap party on May 10 trading copies of his new book!
About the Book:
Hypnotizing us with the deceptively simple rhythm of the ordinary, We Were Flying to Chicago offers a moment of change: the view over the cliff, the breath before a decision, a sidelong glance of impending news. Award-winning writer Kevin Clouther skillfully slows time to note the visceral, emotional impact of an everyday moment.
A man drives to the wrong mountain, a hubcap cleaner moonlights as a karaoke star and a woman trusts a stranger on the bus. Each of the 10 stories in We Were Flying to Chicago is contemporary without being ironic or glib, offering a glimpse of stark vulnerability, faith and shared experience.
About the Author:
Kevin Clouther was born in Boston and grew up on Cape Cod and in South Florida. He holds degrees from the University of Virginia and Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he completed his thesis under Marilynne Robinson and won the Richard Yates Fiction Award for best short story. He has worked at The Iowa Review, Meridian and The Virginia Literary Review, where he served as fiction editor. He teaches creative writing at Stony Brook University, where he coordinates the Program in Writing Reading Series, and John Hopkins. He has previously taught at Bridgewater College in Virginia, the University of Michigan Dearborn and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lives in Floral Park, New York with his wife and two children.
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