Mark Sarvas’s debut novel, Harry, Revised, which has drawn comparisons to John Updike and Philip Roth, and was a Denver Post 2008 Best Book of the Year, has been published by Bloomsbury and will appear in a dozen languages around the world. He is the host of the acclaimed litblog The Elegant Variation (a Forbes Magazine Best of the Web pick and Guardian Top 10 Literary Blog) and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His criticism has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere.
Who are you?
If you mean in the ontological sense, I have no clue. If you mean the more prosaic CV sort of stuff, I’m a novelist, a book reviewer, a blogger and, now, a father, which I enjoy more than any of my prior occupations.
What was the last book you read? How did you like it?
Yikes. Oddly, I can’t say – I’m a judge in a contest and it’s all hush-hush just now. (20 books to read by September.) Well, I suppose there’s – no, I can’t say that one either, it’s slated for review in the Times. Well, I can point you to a marvelous book I’ve talked about quite a bit at my blog called Nobility of Spirit – it’s a paean to Big Ideas and it’s one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in ages.
How does your reading day begin?
Email, sadly. (It should begin with something like Proust, no?) Then my browser home page is the NY Times, so I poke around there. I check out Andrew Sullivan. Then I open my feedreader and see what the blogs I like are up to. After my coffee is usually when I tuck in with an actual book. And it’s often disrupted by the mail call, which always brings new and exciting things to distract, um, tempt me.
If you could meet a character on the halodeck, who would it be? And what would you do?
Othello. I would clue him to what Iago is up to. Every time Desdemona is killed, I cry like a little girl. (And having a little girl now, I know of what I speak.)
When it comes to books or readers, what’s your greatest pet peeve?
Oh God, where do I begin. My sister drives me nuts – she doesn’t keep anything she reads. That’s hard to bear. But my greatest pet peeve, I suppose, is when I see what I consider mediocre work being bathed in over praise, books like The Lovely Bones whose cloying mawkishness is somehow taken for literary gravitas. Bleah.”
What novel should replace the Gideon’s Bible in hotel rooms worldwide? Explain.
My agent probably wants me to say my novel, Harry, Revised. The royalties would be nice. But I doubt the level of spiritual sustenance could compare. I’m known for loving The Great Gatsby – it’s the first book I read every year, and every year it truly is new to me. And it’s shorter than the Bible. I think that would be my pick.
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For more on Mark Sarvas and his debut novel Harry, Revised, please visit The Elegant Variation. Today.
“…books like The Lovely Bones whose cloying mawkishness is somehow taken for literary gravitas. Bleah.” Well – no, perfectly – said. I’m glad I’m not the only one. But my intelligent response to this book was limited to harbouring urges to visit violence upon it.
Great interview! Kevin, I think you should ask everyone the Gideon bible question.
Hello, Mark. I am Kevin’s friend from from Iran, from the land of Rumi and Omar Khayyam. Sadly, your blog is blocked by internet filterings in Iran. Happily, though, I was able to break through these filterings and take a quick glance at your wonderul blog. For me, as someone with no access to any books and magazines in your culture, such valued literary blogs mean a whole world.
Interestingly “love” was the first word I saw there. I must say that the whole Persian classical literature consists of this single magical word. As for its meaning, well, Attar says in his book “Tazkirat Ol-Owlia” that on the day Mansur Hallaj was to be executed, someone approached him on the way to the scaffold and asked: “What is love?” And Mansur answered: “You will see it today, tomorrow and the day after.” On the first day he was mutilated, on the second day his body was burned and on the third day they sent his ashes away with the wind.
Please forgive the tardy reply. I am deeply moved that my blog brings any value at all to you, however briefly. Please feel free to write to me directly and I will pass any literary news I can.
My thoughts are with you.