|photo: Zed Nelson
Anna Sherman was born in Little Rock, Ark., and studied classics at Wellesley and Lincoln College, Oxford. She moved to Japan in 2001. The Bells of Old Tokyo (Picador, August 13, 2019) is her first book.
On your nightstand now:
The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem. Ernst Jünger's A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941-1945. Ma Jian's Red Dust. Fleur Jaeggy's I Am the Brother of XX. The new translation of Pere Gimferrer's Catalan Poems. William Glassley's A Wilder Time: Notes from a Geologist at the Edge of the Greenland Ice.
Favorite book when you were a child:
When I was very small, I loved C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew: the Wood Between the Worlds, like a 1950s version of the multiverse; magic apple trees; and Day-Glo transportation rings.
As a teenager I was obsessed with Gillian Bradshaw's novels, especially Kingdom of Summer, from her Arthurian trilogy. Bradshaw threads her books with lines from ancient Irish epics and bootlegged Greek and Latin fragments too. It's a technique I still like--little poetic shards set in a text.
Your top five authors:
Let's cross out the "five" and add "still living":
Rae Armantrout, Rita Dove, Jenny Erpenbeck, Aleksandar Hemon, Claudio Magris, Michael Ondaatje, Cormac McCarthy, John McPhee, Orhan Pamuk, Thomas Pynchon, Marilynne Robinson, Gary Snyder.
Book you've faked reading:
I haven't (yet) finished Remembrance of Things Past. I've read the first volumes and the last ones, but not The Prisoner or The Fugitive. I find Proust's descriptions of Paris during World War I, and his accounts of the very first airplanes, much more compelling than his writings on love and art.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation. She has one passage about Christmas cards--what would happen if we told the truth rather than lying--that's brilliant. And I love how she deploys factoids in misleading ways. A perfect text for the post-truthiness era.
Also Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped. A masterpiece. Prose so sweet you don't realize you're swallowing broken glass.
Book you've bought for the cover:
A.D. Miller's Snowdrops. So gorgeous. So sinister. Rather like the book itself.
Book you hid from your parents:
I can't come clean on my louche teenage tastes! Enough to say that my mother is probably still finding cheap novels in drawers or underneath sofa cushions, all these years later.
Book that changed your life:
Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard. If I could memorize every sentence in this book, I would. The writer's personal circumstances amaze me too--the fact that, so soon after his wife's death, Matthiessen left their young son while he set out across the Tibetan plateau. A beautiful book but one that would have been very costly to write.
Favorite line from a book:
My answer to this question oscillates from day to day. Right now, the needle is steady at Ilya Kaminsky's Deaf Republic:
What is a man?/ A quiet between two bombardments.
Five books you'll never part with:
Fyodor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). Pico Iyer's The Man Within My Head. Royall Tyler's Japanese Nō Dramas. James Salter's Solo Faces. William Dalrymple's City of Djinns.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
War and Peace. I came to it late, in my 30s, even though I had read and loved Tolstoy's shorter works, especially Hadji Murat, years before. But War and Peace is so pitch-perfect: for its philosophy, its narrative, its characters--just how real Tolstoy makes an imaginary world.
I wish I could pick up that book & not know that Prince Andrei would get killed. And Petya Rostov.