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Illustrator Lou Brooks talks about his life and reading – Page 5

Some great reading suggestions...

READERSVOICE.COM: Could you recommend about five or so books, particularly any out of the way titles, and maybe say why you liked them?

LOU BROOKS: Impossible to answer. I’ve been hypnotized by so many great books.

My wife and I both read a lot of books. Mostly all fiction. Great fiction is “…a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive.” I wish I’d said that, but it was Hemingway.

We haven’t watched television at all going on six years now. Something had to give, and good riddance to it.

Besides whatever we’re each reading, we always have a book going that I read aloud to Clare over breakfast each morning, a chapter or two at a time. She’s the world’s greatest listener, and I love reading aloud to her if the language is poetic.

Most always, they are books that have been around a long time. Early- to mid-20th century. Some earlier. They’re around a long time because they are great books. They’re crafted, rather than written. They deal with the parts of life that have always been there, still are there, and always will be there.

I like a few of the “new” writers, but not many. I like Allan Gurganus. I got into his stuff after I illustrated his short story, “My Heart is a Snake Farm,” for The New Yorker. Elmore Leonard, when he’s on the money — hard to find better dialogue. And a lot of Bukowski’s poetry, but not his prose. He wouldn’t be considered “new,” I guess.

But I’m pretty particular, because reading takes a lot of time. Elsewhere on your site, Nancy Pearl remarks that there are four doorways into a book. My doorway is always the same: language. Character would be a fairly close second.

But it’s language first by writers with great things on their mind, and it gets to be impossible to be satisfied with anything less. The words and ideas have to be beautifully and perfectly crafted. That’s a doorway that maybe Nancy Pearl left out: ideas.

Rather than recommend five or so books then, I’ll give you a short list of authors that have consistently blown my skirt up. I’ve jotted down their best work (and I know I’m leaving a lot of good stuff out!). All of the books listed are easily available either through shoplifting or purchase, and, in some cases, I’ve asterisked the ones(s) you should read first.

First: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost. That would be Twain (Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn), Hemingway (The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition*, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, A Moveable Feast, The Old Man and the Sea) and Kerouac (On the Road*, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, Visions of Gerard, Desolation Angels). The stone of 20th century American lit seems to skip along these three guys.

Then, in no intentional order at all: Raymond Chandler (all of his novels, starting with The Big Sleep, as well as his short stories in Trouble is My Business and The Simple Art of Murder). He can go goofy on plot, but there’s a truckload of poetry there.

Willa Cather (My Antonia*, O, Pioneers!, The Professor’s House) George Simenon (The seemingly endless Maigret series, as well as his “psychological” novels, such as Monsieur Monde Vanishes* and The Engagement). It always depends on who’s translating him.

Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, Nicholas Nickleby);

E.M. Forster (Howard’s End*, A Room with a View*, Passage to India);

Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me*, Hell of a Woman, Pop. 1280, Savage Night) Like the man said, take a tour of hell.

Guy De Maupassant (Short Stories) Eyes wide open, and he got it all down. Go for the Penguin Classics Roger Colet translation.

World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time. W.W. Norton & Co. Try to fall asleep every night reading a poem. If you’re afraid that this 1,338-page baby might flatten you while sleeping, go for Immortal Poems of the English Language edited by Oscar Williams — a tidy little 638-page paperback that’s also handy for airports, jury duty, and so on.

And, a few “one-shots” (meaning the book mentioned is the only one I’ve read so far): Dorothy Parker (Complete Stories) Penguin Classics edition. I think she’s so close to Hemingway at times, in that she can convey the very heart of the story without ever writing a word about it. Some magic trick.

Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio) The loneliness of American small town life, which, you’ll discover, hasn’t changed much.

Leo Tolstoy (The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories) The Signet Classic edition. A book that greatly changed the way I look at my life as well as the lives of others. Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or Life in the Woods). As if it were written yesterday! Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary). Back in the ‘80s, Kurt Vonnegut once remarked that this was the greatest novel ever written, and I got hooked.

Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island) Forget Harry Potter… this is the one.

-More from Lou Brooks next issue!