What the Writers Think 

A Parlor Room Quiz

MITCH CULLIN
Author of Tideland, which was just released as a film at Cannes, directed by Terry Gilliam, and most recently, A Slight Trick of the Mind.

Most respected writer you’ve never read?

Oh, lord, there’s way too many. Almost all of them. Pretty much anything pre-Kafka. But the glaring ones: Ayn Rand. John Barth. John Updike. John Cheever. Most of the Johns, actually.

Book/writer you’re ashamed to like?
Well, you know, if I like someone or something I never feel ashamed about it. I’m easy that way. God bless Jackie Collins!

Best/highly acclaimed book/writer you know you should like but don’t.
I have a very firm policy about never saying anything unkind about other writers in a public forum. That said, my answer would be V.S. Pritchett, because at least he’s not around anymore to care. I found his writing to be too perfect, too air tight, like a well-detailed ship in a bottle: great to behold but impossible to touch.

What are your five desert island books?
Ah, the torture of this kind of question! Right now my five desert island books would be: Day Of The Locusts by Nathanael West, Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness by Kenzaburo Oe, The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura, The Sweet-Shop Owner by Graham Swift

BEN GREENMAN
Author of the short story collections, Superbad and Superworse.

Most respected writer you’ve never read?
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh. Seems mean and funny and sharp. I think I have a copy somewhere, but it’s underneath some Coetzee, some Roth, and some Yates, and a Naked Gun DVD.

Book/writer you’re ashamed to like?
I’m not ashamed to like any book. Even bad books are hard to write, and good bad books are some of the best books around.

Best/highly acclaimed book/writer you know you should like but don’t.
Probably Brave New World. It just never seemed anything other than stupid. I’m willing to accept that in this case, the problem is me.

What are your five desert island books?
Stanley Elkin, Searches and Seizures, Ezra Pound, The Cantos, Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music, Joy Williams, Honored Guest. Then probably a radio disguised as a book.

ALICIA ERIAN
Author of the newly acclaimed novel, Towelhead.

Most respected writer you’ve never read?

Henry James

Book/writer you’re ashamed to like?
Survivor: The Official Companion Book, by Mark Burnett and Martin Dugard

Best/highly acclaimed book/writer you know you should like but don’t.
Sherwood Anderson

What are your five desert island books?
As Nature Made Him, by John Colapinto, Random Family, by Adrian Nicole Leblanc, Cries Unheard, by Gitta Sereny, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer

STEPHEN ELLIOT
His most recent novel is Happy Baby.

Most respected writer you’ve never read?
Ian McEwan. I’m always hearing how great he is, and I believe it.

Book/writer you’re ashamed to like?
Charles Bukowski. When I started reading him in college I was blown away, he opened a whole new world to me. Then, when I started hanging with a more literate crowd I realized quickly that it wasn’t cool to like Charlie, but in my thirties I’ve come to embrace him again, particularly his earlier novels.

Best/highly acclaimed book/writer you know you should like but don’t.
A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley. Exley is Bukowski for people who went to private schools. I can’t relate to that.

What are your five desert island books?
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace which everybody loves, but which I always put down by page 60. It’s written for people with time to kill and if I was stranded on a desert island, that would be the time. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson, my favorite book, is one of the few books I could read over and over, as is The Soccer Wars by Ryzard Kapuscinski. For porn, which would be a prime consideration, I’d want For the Man Who Knows His Place by Eric Stanton, a coffeetable book of my favority erotic illustrations. For my fifth book I’d bring Island of the Blue Dolphins, a true story of an American-Indian girl stranded on a desert island. I’ve never read it but it sounds like a book I would relate to if I was in fact stranded on a desert island.

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