« What Sells Books in 2007? | Main | On Literary Envy »

August 22, 2007



In your posts about "The Indian Clerk," I'm surprised you haven't mentioned Robert Kanigel's highly acclaimed biography of Ramanujan, "The Man Who Knew Infinity." To what degree did Kanigel's non-fiction account influence your fictional one?

David Leavitt

Kanigel's book was immensely helpful to me. It's a great biography. See the "Sources & Acknowledgements" essay at the end of The Indian Clerk for more on this.

Jason Boog

Two literary trips not to be missed: reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn while living in Brooklyn and reading Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo in rural Central America. Both those books haunted me in those locations.

This post brought back so many good memories of reading, I hope more people weigh in with more literary travel suggestions.


I spent my last Paris trip reading the diaries of the Goncourt brothers - I'm sure my appreciation of the work was heightened by the apt setting.

David Leavitt

Next on the list for me: Borges in Buenos Aires.

David Leavitt

Next on the list for me: Borges in Buenos Aires.

J Williamson

Reading Arthur Phillips' "Prague" in Budapest was an experience I still think about when writing myself.

Jack Pendarvis

Yes, indeed! My only conflict is deciding whether to dash off to Vienna, Central America, or Paris, as various readers have suggested. So for now I'm going to read Beckett whilst buried up to my chin in waste material.


I read Gravity's Rainbow for the first time while living in Germany. I had only recently returned from a trip hiking around in the Harz mountains (maybe 30 miles from where I was living) as I read that beautiful scene where Slothrop and Geli sit on the hill and cast shadows on the clouds. Nothing like a little literary goosing to make the whole thing go pop in your head.


The best experience I ever had with this was reading Infinite Jest mostly while commuting on the MBTA from Somerville out to 128 (86 bus to Reservoir/D-line to the end).

I tried reading V while in Valletta, but didn't get through it fast enough to get to the part actually set in Valletta.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."