Nightstand | Jennifer Egan
Egan, this year's winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and one of Time magazine's 100 "most influential people" for 2011, was more interested in science than English when she was in high school. "I really wanted to be a doctor. I loved dissections,'' said the 48-year-old mother of two in a phone interview from her home in New York. In the 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, which has been optioned by HBO, Egan weaves together 13 interrelated stories centering on Bennie Salazar, a music executive and aging punk rocker, and his assistant, Sasha. It also includes an awesome chapter devoted to a child's journal, kept in PowerPoint, on the best dramatic silent pauses in classic rock songs.
What's on your nightstand?
Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteynart, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips. I'm a big fan of Arthur Phillips. I'm also reading some books with my kids.
With Arthur Phillips, what drew you back to him?
The last book I read by Arthur Phillips, and the one that has really cemented my fandom, is The Song is You. I was wildly compelled by the ways that music and technology were braided into a deeply human story. He's an extremely clever writer. He's watchful of our historical moment with all its nuances but is also humane.
And what are your kids reading?
One is reading Into the Wild, the first book of the Warrior series (by Erin Hunter), and Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan, and my older one right now is really into reading magazines. And then I am reading with them, too. We're reading Arabian Nights together because the language is elevated for them to read themselves.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were blessed with kids who read, but then you were concerned about your kids reading books inappropriate for them?
I feel that way sometimes with graphic novels. We've been in a bookstore before where an employee who is not a parent yet has recommended a graphic novel that was not appropriate. And actually, not too long ago, with my blessing my aunt and uncle gave my oldest son the Jay-Z autobiography. He himself pointed out that he shouldn't be reading it. But, on the other hand, he also found an Eminem book, and I couldn't pry it away from him. I told him that I understood Eminem is special to him, but if I couldn't trust him to know when things were not appropriate I'd have to pay closer attention when we got the books in the first place. Bottom line is he won. He read the book.
So once a parent knows they have a reader on their hands, what authors would you encourage them to read?
I'm a big believer in trying to figure out what naturally interests your kids and work with that rather than trying to impose certain "ideal'' authors on them. For example, I just read A Wrinkle in Time to my sons because I'd loved that book as a kid. They were pretty cold toward it from the beginning, but I slogged on, hoping it would catch fire for them. It didn't. And as we got deeper into the book, I found myself thinking that it's pretty dated. It's really a Cold War vision, and it doesn't resonate with this moment. So in some sense they know what they want, and it's pointless to fight that. My older son likes stories of social discomfort like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate and Judy Blume's Fudge series, that kind of thing. If I shower him with fantasy books, he's not going to go for them. I try to look where he's interested, at the highest level I can get him to comfortably read.
And here's a question concerning my favorite part of A Visit from the Goon Squad. What do you consider the ultimate pause in a rock song?
I have to say I'm most partial to Long Train Running by the Doobie Brothers. Roxanne also has a great pause.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer