Books

bibliophiles

Nathan Englander’s new appreciation for children’s books

In the past year Nathan Englander has lived in Malawi, where his wife was working on her doctorate, judged one of Canada’s top literary awards, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and finished a novel, “Dinner at the Center of the Earth.” Now comes the 20-city plus book tour.

BOOKS: Did becoming a parent change your reading?

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ENGLANDER: Children’s books have really become a part of my reading life. As kids my sister and I loved Barbara and Ed Emberley’s “Drummer Hoff.” It’s a masterful book with these crazy woodcuts and rhymes. My daughter loves it, but I’ve been forcing my taste on her. She’s nutty for Andrea Beaty and David Roberts’s “Ada Twist, Scientist.” There’s this book “Wolfie the Bunny” by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora about a rabbit family that adopts a wolf. When the sister rabbit stands up for Wolfie it literally moves me to tears. [Children’s literature] is a form a poetry. They are short and primal.

BOOKS: What are you reading for yourself?

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ENGLANDER: For the Giller I must have been through 100 novels. I was just finishing the last 30. It’s an interesting process to read that much and that fast. I’m an extraordinarily slow reader. I hear every line in my head. This was a good lesson for me because you can’t read 100 books that way. I’m so glad to get to choose my own books again. One of the few non-Giller books I managed to read is “The Evening Road” by Laird Hunt. It’s about people heading toward a lynching. It’s interesting to see how people deal with explosive subjects.

BOOKS: What’s on your to-read stack?

ENGLANDER: I started “A Separation” by Katie Kitamura. You feel like you are in good hands with that book. In nonfiction I am bananas about “Pit Bull” by Bronwen Dickey. I’m a dog crazy person. It does this great alley-oop of being a great personal narrative, and it’s going to be chockfull of information. I’m really into what I call my dipping-into books, such as Don Paterson and Nick Laird’s “The Zoo of the New,” a fat book of great poems in no particular order. I can just read “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth and have the wind knocked out of me.

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BOOKS: What books have you been recommending?

ENGLANDER: I keep recommending “Empire of the Summer Moon,” a book about the Comanches by S.C. Gwynne. As a kid who grew up Orthodox Jewish and in New York I just didn’t have a picture of American history. This book taught me history, and it was so relevant about how much it matters for a government to be trustworthy. That led me to Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” which is a more challenging read.

BOOKS: What kind of books did you have in Malawi?

ENGLANDER: You would just find a pile of books somewhere, like there’d be a shop with woodcarvings with a pile of books in the back. I would grab everything. The autobiography of Winston Churchill’s secretary? “I’ll take it.” I read Joyce Carol Oates’s “Black Water,” a hardcover from some library in Holland. Of course I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” I read David Sedaris’s “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence.” That book, with people eating in Michelin-starred restaurants, was interesting to read in a place of extraordinary poverty.

BOOKS: Did growing up Orthodox Jewish shape you as a reader?

ENGLANDER: I still pile books in order of holiness. I would never put the story of Esther on top of the Bible. The Bible is a more important book. If I drop a book, I pick it up and kiss it as an apology for dropping it on the floor, as if it was a holy book. Also being raised with the Bible as the word of god, it wasn’t just a story to me but the truth, a living truth. That’s a distinct way to read. That religious love of story, I’ll be thankful for that forever.

AMY SUTHERLAND

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