In Stacks on the Stairs

Here is a delightful interview with Marilynne Robinson in the New York Times Books section, in which she discusses such things as avoiding despair, rereading, and where she keeps/how she organizes her books. There’s a lovely symmetry to the whole interview that mimics – for me – her domestic cataloging proclivities, which I adore (but do not share).

On what writer she would like to meet, living or dead (a question I find incredibly tiresome, along with what’s your favorite book, to which she also offers an answer):

“A wonderful writer has given the best of herself or himself in the work. I think many of them are frustrated by the thinness and inadequacy of ordinary spoken language, of ordinary contact even with the people they know best and love best. They turn to writing for this reason. I think many of them are magnanimous in a degree their lives cannot otherwise express. To meet Emily Dickinson or Henry James would be, from their side, to intrude on them, maybe even to make them feel inadequate to expectation. I can’t imagine being a sufficient reason for the disruption. We do have their books. That said, I would like to meet William James.”

I’m with Marilynne, mostly. I don’t feel the need to meet authors, even ones I consider my favorites. And it’s not so much because I fear I’ll make a fool of myself – which I probably would – as it is that any occasion on which I would meet an author would be a quick howdy-do from opposite sides of a book signing table. I don’t find value in that kind of encounter. Maybe if the question were what author, living or dead, would you like to really get to know, then I might be able to come up with an answer. Like William Maxwell.

Anyway, it’s an interesting interview, and short. And full of perfect lines such as this one: “My favorite book or story tends to be the one I’ve read or thought about most recently.” Me too, Marilynne.

(Just for fun, do a Google Image search for `books on stairs’ – I’ve included a few of my favorites here.)

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