(Drawing of Liz Grace by Vanessa Waring)
A monthly interview with Bolinas Library readers.
Liz Grace is a long time resident of Bolinas, and avid reader. She can often be found in the Bolinas library requesting a book. A a former high school teacher of English and Special Ed, she produced four documentary films about her special needs daughter, Lily. Three of the films have been consolidated into one DVD, Lily: A Longitudinal Portrait of Living with Down Syndrome. The second DVD is entitled, Lily: We Are All Getting Older. They can be found in the Bolinas Library and are published by davidsonfilms.com.
What books are on your nightstand?
The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
Philosophy and Social Hope by Richard Rorty
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
Literary Theory: An Introduction by Terry Eagleton
What are you reading right now?
At the moment, I am reading the last act of Anthony and Cleopatra for Hanford’s Shakespeare class. Hanford Woods, a Bolinas resident has been offering this class for the last 3 years and is a former professor of Shakespeare from Montreal. So far, the group has read about fifteen plays.
How do you like to read? What format and do you read one at a time?
I usually read two books at a time. I’ve never read eBooks but I used to listen to audio books in the car while driving. As you know, living out here in Bolinas requires a lot of driving for errands, appointments etc. However, lately I haven’t been listening to audio books in the car as I’m feeling that as I age that it takes all my concentration to drive.
How do you find books? Do you browse in the library?
In the past, I did browse in the library but now I often find out about books that I am interested in through the NY Times Book Review as well as reviews on the radio.
Are there books that you re-read; enjoy returning to?
I’m more apt to re-read these days. Some of my favorite authors to go back to are Henry James, James Joyce, Jane Austen and Proust. Some of these authors are not easy but also not as hard as some people may think. I’m currently re-reading Evelyn Waugh, Men at Arms (trilogy).
Did you have favorite books as a child?
As a child? I did not grow up in a house full of books. There were mostly newspapers and magazines. I got into serious reading in high school and college. Although I do remember the book, Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, which stood out in my child hood.
Looking back, where there any books that left a big impression on you in your 20s?
Well, I first read Jane Austen and James Joyce in my 20s. Oh, and Edith Wharton; loved all those books like The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. These writers were so perfect that it made me realize I would never be a writer. I wanted to be able to write that well and I felt that I would never be able to reach that level of perfections so I became a reader and teacher of English.
Henry Miller was in the news at the time and I actually brought his banned books back from Europe in my raincoat pocket, much to the dismay of my lawyer husband at the time. Actually, he was terrified but I have to say I did not like the books at all.
What’s the last book you recommended to a friend?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and anything by Don DeLillo. I loved all the Knausgaard books, (My Struggle) and read all five. I would be inclined to recommend them to friends but people re very particular about what they like to read so he is not for everyone. Oh, and also anything by Nicholson Baker. I plan to read Meg Wolitzer next, The Female Persuasion.
Do you have any favorite characters?
Many of my favorite characters are from the plays of Shakespeare. But I would also say, Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Stephen Dedalus, (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses), and women in the Henry James novels. I have read a lot of the Russian novels and particularly like Anna Karenina.
I know you like the classics but how about contemporary works?
Any new Claire Messud, Rachael Cusk or Haruki Murakami. I recently read Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hochschild.
Are there any books you’ve always meant to read?
I guess that’s what you could call a guilt list and I don’t have one, although I have started Don Quixote twice. If I did have a guilt list it would include David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest and the works of Thomas Pynchon.
Can you tell me more about the book clubs you have been in through the years?
I started being part of a reading group about 35 years ago in Bolinas. We read many of the classics such as Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen and Middlemarch by George Eliot. At another time, I was in a writers group in which we read Nobel Prize winners that the group hadn’t read like Elias Canetti and lots of French writers.
I was also part of a Proust group where we read all seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past. When Proust ended, I was in another group. I got to re-read War and Peace, which I loved. Eventually we read Ulysses by James Joyce, The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. We also read novels by Chekhov who is both readable and wonderful.
Tastes changed through years, but for me, some writers remain constant, like Joyce or Austen for example. When I was younger, I thought if someone was famous that they were great and it would be unbecoming not to like them. I didn’t realize that I could say that I didn’t like the writing.
Where do you like to read? Do you have a favorite reading spot?
I always have a little paperback. I like to read in a chair, in the sun on the deck. I always have a book and I’ve found that reading is a wonderful companion, especially as I get older.
Reading is easy for me, but is harder for some people as I found from being an English teacher. People tend to do things that they are good at, like gardening. You have to love doing it. Reading in school was not easy for some. I can read for speed so I often read the last chapter first, even in Moby-Dick so then I won’t read too fast and just for plot. That way, I can slow down and enjoy the writing more. Reading has been a huge part of my life for more than 60 years.