Book Brahmin: Simon Van Booy

Simon Van Booy grew up in rural Wales. He is the author of the story collections The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books (Why We Fight, Why We Need Love and Why Our Decisions Don't Matter) and his essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and on NPR. He lives in New York City, where he teaches at the School of Visual Arts and is involved in the Rutgers Early College Humanities program for young adults living in underserved communities. His debut novel, Everything Beautiful Began After, was just released (July 5) by Harper Perennial.


On your nightstand now:

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, a 1950s French/English Dictionary;

A bird's-eye maple candlestick from the 18th century, a marble tile with Greek figures engraved on a round silver plate, a tea cup (which I really should have put in the dishwasher by now), drawings of smiling heads (odd, I know) left by my daughter (aged six), a Christian Louboutin Barbie high-heeled shoe which I was tired of stepping on in bare feet and so it has been "confiscated" though I quite like waking up to it.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Commando Comic Series. These were little books that featured heroic stories from World War II. I spent all my allowance every week on them. I also dipped into adult books that my parents had, such as The Shepherd by Frederick Forsyth, which had an enormous influence on me because it introduced me to the idea of how a quiet story could be deeply powerful.

Your top six authors:

At the moment, they are Marcel Proust, Claire Keegan, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Janet Frame.

Book you've faked reading:

The Holy Bible. Imagine me aged six in rural Wales standing in front a crowd of Methodist pensioners whose minds have been ravaged by endless cups of tea:

"So, there was this guy who was really kind and wore a towel over his privates, but people loved him and washed his feet in bowls. He was also born in a shed with a donkey watching. And then three old men showed up with Frankenstein and said the stars are amazing tonight...."

Book you're an evangelist for:

Anything by the above authors, but especially Miss Keegan, as she's the only one who is alive. I worship her writing. I'd take a bullet for her books, seriously.

Book you've bought for the cover:

The Little Dictionary of Fashion by Christian Dior and a strange, beautiful neon pink Chinese-language edition of Madame Bovary by Flaubert.

Book that changed your life:

Many have, but the first book as an adult that changed my life was On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I was 21 and realized that most brilliant people in the world are slightly insane, and that it was possible to be wild and be wearing a shirt and tie at the same time. 

Favorite line from a book:

"...his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." (Ulysses)

I also love reading Proust in French aloud. So if you call me between the hours of 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., I'll read it to you on the telephone and we can pretend we are Libertines.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

There are none. I never go back, only forward, even if it's into the flames of my own destruction.... Actually--I'd love to read the Madeleine in Paris books again, as the rhyming is just so amazing. I could recite them right now....

The most influential people to you as a writer at the moment:

My daughter, Madeleine; my friend and editor, Carrie Kania; J.S. Bach; Yves Saint Laurent.


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