Joshua Ferris: Books of My Life
My favorite book as a child
In the fifth grade, Mr. Holycross read us a chapter a day from Where the Red Fern Grows. That was my first experience with a great weeper, and it still makes a difference.
My favorite book in high school
Fate threw me together with great teachers. Alongside Mr. Holycross, I have to mention Ms. Jane Rice. When I inquired, she pulled Lolita off the classroom shelf and handed it to me without fear of scandal. I was 14. I’m grateful for all the ways I was treated like an adult in high school.
An illicit book I read in secret as a kid
I was lucky that I had parents who didn’t force me to read in secret. That’s what Playboy was for. Although this one time, my stepdad took me for a ride in his state-issued police car and threw a copy of Penthouse on my lap, which was super weird.
The book I’ve read over and over
Thomas and Beulah, by Rita Dove. A collection of poems about Dove’s grandparents and their hardscrabble lives. I run through some of those poems at night when I can’t sleep.
My favorite movie adaptation
Have you seen Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro in Angel Heart? I used to watch that every Sunday morning. That’s a fine film.
The classic I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read
Middlemarch. I’ll probably die before I read Middlemarch. That anguishes more than embarrasses me. In my mind, Middlemarch stands for literary excellence unsoiled by my own experience with it. I project such greatness onto Middlemarch that I constantly go around asking myself why I’m wasting my time doing anything other than reading Middlemarch. Middlemarch makes me feel lacking and lazy and rebukes me wherever I go, and for that reason I hate Middlemarch and absolutely refuse to read it.
A book I’ve pretended to have read
A book I consider grossly overrated
On the Road. I hate that book. What a stupid book. What a limp, flaccid, impotent little manifesto of a book.
The recent book I wish I’d written
It would be nice to be somebody else for a little while, with a whole new set of preoccupations and neuroses. To wake up at long last thinking of something different and to be done, however briefly, with my insufficiencies and wrong moves. And so the question should really be, What’s a recent book I don’t wish I had written?
The book people might be surprised to learn I love
The Da Vinci Code.
The last book that made me laugh…and the last one that made me cry
The Good Lord Bird made me LMAO. The last book that made me cry was The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. How sensitive I am.
What I’m reading now
The Known World by Edward P. Jones. That book’s a marvel, and Jones is like a god. He comes very close to the authority and grace of Gabriel García Márquez. He need only write it to make it true.