“In most books, the I, or first person, is omitted; in this it will be retained; that, in respect to egotism, is the main difference. We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking.”
I seldom have good ideas. That’s a fact. But recently as I was hiking through an old grove of walnut trees, I had a very good idea. It happened to me by accident.
I love conversations with booklovers.
There’s something about the format that allows novels (their techniques, plots, and characters) and the people who read them (their opinions, habits, and pet peeves) to emerge in ways that are both informative and entertaining, without devolving into XOXO, gossip girl.
Problem is, The Paris Review and Vanity Fair cannot source, print, and distribute interviews fast enough to satisfy my hunger.
Enter: Between the Lines, a blog exclusively devoted to intelligent, opinionated booklovers and their bewildering array of idiosyncrasies.
Talking about idiosyncrasies.
It’s time to meet The Most Interesting Woman in the World. No, she doesn’t star in a Dos Equis commercial (although she should). But she does star in this our inaugural post, and for a very good reason.
At age 29, Kristine Baker once inspired hendecasyllabic verse from a 15-year old boy on the ski slopes at Northstar.
Who are you?
I’m a reader; mama; lover of cultural theory who didn’t quite love academia; fan of truly embarrassing television; vegetarian; writer for hire; sleep-deprived, mosquito-bitten southerner with California on my mind.
What was the last book you read? How did you like it?
Home Game by Michael Lewis. So, so good. If you’re a parent, you need someone to say this to you about your baby: It’s because you want to hurl it off the balcony and don’t that you come to love it.
Lewis is so gifted at telling a story by way of the interesting people making it happen. He works inside-out, creating the whole through the details. Read his books about Wall Street or Silicon Valley or parenting. Whatever he writes is funny and brilliant. There’s little that’s more gratifying than being in the hands of a good storyteller.
What’s your favorite literary device? Why?
My favorite literary device has to be the unreliable narrator. This is the anthropologist in me—I simply adore a point of view that’s unhinged from what I take for granted. How is the world to someone with a completely different truth? Is it your job to translate it, or to just let it wash over you and see where you end up? I’m for the latter.
When it comes to marginalia, do you use a pencil, pen, or a finger in the sand?
I happen to enjoy convoluted, nearly impenetrable social theory. If I’m reading it I diligently summarize everything in plain language in the margins. But if it’s a novel, I never, ever write anything. When I come across a passage that is moving to me in some way, I make a tiny dog ear at the bottom of the page. I like to think of each one like a little time capsule, and I periodically get out an old favorite to re-read the marked pages and see if I can still spot the passage that inspired me. Seems to kind of mark the rate at which my world is, or isn’t, changing.
What are your top five favorite books?
These poor books have been dragged with me from one coast to the other and back again. They are alphabetical by title—I don’t play favorites with my favorites:
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Juneteenth, Ralph Ellison
Lolita, Vladamir Nabokov
Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie
Olivia, Ian Falconer
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Patterns of Culture, Ruth Benedict
Tristes Tropiques, Claude Levi-Strauss
The Woman in the Body, Emily Martin
Okay, I admit that’s not five, but I’m not really a numbers person.
Bonus answer: My favorite book title is: The Hold Life Has. It’s an ethnography I read as an undergraduate. I don’t even remember who it’s about or who wrote it, but that title sticks with me. Just gets to something, you know?
Who is your favorite unknown or under-appreciated author?
My college roommate, Heidi, is one of my favorite poets in the world, but she got distracted on her way to poetry fame and fortune. Seriously, Heidi, if you are reading this, call the publisher back and let them have your book.
Have you found wisdom in novels? Explain.
Absolutely. In the last few years, part of a quotation from Toni Morrison has been kicking around in my head: “oysters suffering their pearls.” Seems to make me feel better when the kids have gone rabid by the end of the day. Your interview made we want to go back and get that bit into context and, wouldn’t you know it? Even more wisdom than I remembered:
“It takes a certain intelligence to love like that—softly, without props. But the world is such a showpiece, maybe that’s why folks try to outdo it, put everything they feel onstage just to prove they can think up things too: handsome scary things like fights to the death, adultery, setting sheets afire. They fail, of course. The world outdoes them every time. While they are busy showing off, digging other people’s graves, hanging themselves on a cross, running wild in the streets, cherries are turning from green to red, oysters are suffering pearls, and children are catching rain in their mouths expecting the drops to be cold but they’re not; they are warm and smell like pineapple before they get heavier and heavier, so heavy and fast they can’t be caught one at a time.” —Toni Morrison, Love