Professor’s Picks with Jenny Davidson
We recently asked Columbia professor Jenny Davidson a few questions about her favorite books and what she has read recently. She shared an abundance of titles with us, which are posted below.
Save the Date: Professor Davidson will appear at Book Culture on Thursday, February 26 at 7 pm to discuss her new book, Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century. She will be joined by Vassar’s Julie Park.
On to the interview…
1) What books are you currently reading?
I’m in the middle of Jennifer Egan’s The Keep; next in the queue is Heidi Julavits’s The Uses of Enchantment. The last couple books I’ve read were James Blish’s SF classic A Case of Conscience, which I loved, and nineteenth-century novelist Marie Corelli’s melodrama Thelma, which was a surprisingly good read. On a long plane trip recently, I read Jonathan Coe’s The Rain Before It Falls and Rosamond Lehmann’s The Ballad and the Source. Two books I’m looking forward to reading in the near future: Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book and John Hanc’s The Coolest Race on Earth: Mud, Madmen, Glaciers and Grannies at the Antarctica Marathon.
2) Is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to the publication of?
I don’t really follow what’s coming out when. I am always excited about a new novel by Kazuo Ishiguro or Richard Powers, for instance, but I’m not sure that either of them is publishing anything big this year. What I can say for certain is that two 2009 books I will read as soon as I can get my hands on them are Lee Child’s next Jack Reacher novel (I believe it is called Gone Tomorrow) and the next installment of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Unseen Academicals!
3) Are there standard titles or writers you like to recommend, either within or outside of your field?
I am copiously full of book recommendations! Two things I read while I was working on Breeding and that really amazed me, to the point where I felt grumpy I hadn’t read them sooner, were John Passmore’s The Perfectibility of Man and the essays by Leslie Farber collected in The Ways of the Will. Two classic works of literary criticism that I often recommend and that also influenced me while writing this book, in terms of both content and style: Leo Marx’s The Machine in the Garden and Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City. Another book that has had a major influence on the way I am thinking about what I want to do in future books is W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.
4) Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?
In fact, yes! Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows. The name is from one of Blake’s proverbs of hell, and it is the most magical and excellent novel I have ever read. It remains in spot #1 on the list of my top-ten favorite novels of all time (two other regular fixtures are James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head and Dickens’ David Copperfield). Another novel that I have probably read more than thirty times in my life is Pride and Prejudice; I would say that Austen and Dickens are my two favorite nineteenth-century novelists.
5) What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?
I am just starting to think about a new book project that still has the magical allure of the entirely unwritten – it will be about acting theory and ballet and systems of notation and swimming and techniques of the body that must be transmitted from one person to another rather than being most effectively passed on in writing. I’m also finishing the sequel to my novel The Explosionist, which was published this summer by HarperTeen; this one is called The Snow Queen and will probably be out in early 2010. I blog regularly about what I’m reading and sporadically about what I’m writing at Light Reading.