Leah Hager Cohen: By the Book

From The New York Times:

What was the last truly great book you read?

LeahLewis Hyde’s “The Gift.” It’s such a generous, unsettling, chimerical work that the word “book” almost feels inadequate. The first time I read it, the project spread over two full years. I kept having to pause, my finger marking the page, in order to think. Or just to lift my head and breathe. I read it again last year and was stirred by connections I’d missed the first time around. I expect on the next reading it’ll enter more deeply still. (Like that beautiful, alarming James Merrill line: “Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.”)

Sell us on your favorite overlooked or underappreciated writer.

Why, oh why, is Nancy Willard’s “Things Invisible to See” out of print? The novel, set in Ann Arbor in the 1930s and ’40s, manages to be about life, death, love, hate, innocence, experience and baseball. It begins with casual verve: “In Paradise, on the banks of the River of Time, the Lord of the Universe is playing ball with His archangels.” Willard is well known as a children’s book author, but her 1985 adult novel remains very wrongly obscure.

What was the last book to make you laugh?

“This Is How You Lose Her.” Junot Díaz, you slay. (On so many levels.)

The last book that made you cry?

Really incapacitating sobs: “A Lesson Before Dying,” by Ernest J. Gaines. I stayed up until dawn to finish it in one ragged gulp, and toward the end my face was streaming so messily it was literally a struggle to see the words on the page. Slow-rolling, aquifer tears: Marilynne Robinson’s “Home.”

The last book that made you furious?

“The Da Vinci Code.” Although for a while there it seemed all anyone could talk about, I had no intention of reading it. I have kind of an allergic reaction to water-cooler books, plus it didn’t sound remotely like my cup of tea. But it slipped past my fortifications when a friend insisted on lending me the special illustrated edition. It was a sweltering summer night, my boyfriend was watching something boring on TV and there lay the book, deceptively decorous-looking on the coffee table. “Oh,” I thought, “I’ll just crack it open and look at the pictures.” The next thing I knew, some vortex, some literary Bermuda Triangle, had sucked me in. It was like demonic possession. At the end of every chapter I’d glance up and announce in increasingly disgusted tones: “What schlock! This is unbelievably bad.” My boyfriend would good-naturedly start to respond, only to have me violently shush him: “Can’t talk — busy — got to see what happens next.”

More here.