|photo: Jo McCulty
Poet Andrew Hudgins has two new books: The Joker: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster) and A Clown at Midnight, a book of poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Hudgins teaches at Ohio State and divides his time between Columbus, Ohio, and Sewanee, Tenn. His wife is the novelist Erin McGraw and they are both crazy about their two dogs--Max, a 90-pound labradoodle who is constantly on a diet, and Sister, a coonhound mix adopted from the local shelter.
On your nightstand now:
I'll ignore the two piles of 20 books each stacked by my dresser and mention only what's actually on my nightstand. Waiting to be returned to the library is Ian Rankin's latest very good Rebus mystery, Standing in Another Man's Grave. Right now I'm going back and forth between Raymond Williams's The Country and the City, a study of the conflicts between rural and urban life in English literature, and Sing Not War by James Marten, a very interesting study of how Civil War veterans were viewed in the years after the war. And on deck, waiting to be read, is Michael Robotham's The Night Ferry. A couple of weeks ago I raced through his book Suspect, an engrossing thriller, and I'm eager to get to the new book.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Because I grew up in a military family, moving at least every three years, we didn't have dogs. "What are we going to do with a durn dog every time Uncle Sam tells us to move to the ends of the earth?" my mother asked, reasonably enough. So I was an absolute sucker for books about heroic dogs: Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard, Old Yeller by Fred Gipson and everything written by Alfred Payson Terhune, who I was convinced was the greatest writer who had ever lived. I was especially crazy about Lad: A Dog. Lad regularly attained heights of virtue and nobility that I knew I never could even on my best days.
Your top five authors:
Can I say God? I've been buying and reading all of Robert Alter's translations of the Old Testament as they come out because they are, with Alter's nuanced explications of the Hebrew and his rich explanations of Israelite culture, thrilling clarifications of the book I grew up thinking I understood. The David Story and The Five Books of Moses are just terrific, and I'm excited to see Alter has just published a new translation of the prophets. The prophets have always seemed more than a little crazy in their purity and certitude, which was a terrifying attraction to me when I was young. T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats are poets I return to over and over again, and I try a bit to keep up studies of them. F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom are sheer genius, if very different sorts of genius.
Book you've faked reading:
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. Yeah, yeah, if you push me, I'll admit I haven't read it. I've always meant to. I'm a weak and evil person. I'll get to it. I swear.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I'm a big promoter of tons of books: Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (one of the few great books that remains laugh-out-loud funny), Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (a sweeping and peculiar gothic novel), James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential (a transporting venture into a grimy and disturbing world), and David Reynolds's Beneath the American Renaissance (an eye-opening re-reading of formative American literature in its popular context) to name a few. But the only book I've actually bought a dozen copies of and then distributed to friends is J.R. Ackerley's My Dog Tulip. The book is screamingly funny, touching and strange. You will go a long time before you read another book that begins with such a loving description of a dog's vulva.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I'm not sure I've ever done that. But if I did, the book would be one of those lurid Mickey Spillane paperbacks with a more-than-half-naked babe aiming an enormous automatic pistol at me as I stood dumbstruck at the bookstand when I was 14.
Book that changed your life:
So many books have tilted my life in one direction or the other that it is hard to single out one, but a crucial novel for me would be Joseph Heller's Catch-22. When I was in ninth grade, I read it in a blue paperback, and the moment I finished, I turned to the first page and began again. My father was a career office in the U.S. Air Force, so I was astounded to read of war as comic and horrible--not entirely the honorable ultimate sacrifice I'd grown up believing. But an even bigger thrill was experiencing the intimate connection between horror and hilarity, the way fear can give rise to humor, which then both ameliorates and heightens the fear. I repeatedly laughed and flinched at the same time as I read the book.
Favorite line from a book:
Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" ends with the murderer, the Misfit, uttering this pronouncement on the old lady he has just killed:
"She would have been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."
The line is awful, funny, and serious advice on how to live life as best you possibly can; it also catches the fear that it takes to live that intensely.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I've often wondered what it would be like to read Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the way I read it when I was in elementary school--as pure adolescent escapism, a boy on a raft running from his violent father and his strict aunt and having comic adventures along the way.