With more than 40 writers scheduled to speak during our Seminar this January, it can be difficult for a reader to know where to start. Sure, there are the classics and prize-winners, like William Kennedy’s Ironweed and David Levering Lewis’s two-volume biography of W.E.B. DuBois; and recent books like Joyce Carol Oates’s Wild Nights! and Gore Vidal’s Selected Essays. But what of the hundreds you won’t have time for? The exquisite pastime of reading can suddenly grow so stressful!
With this in mind, we’ve been asking our panelists which books they would recommend from among their own works and those of their peers. For the fifth and final installment of the series, we asked David Levering Lewis and Alison Lurie to recommend their own work. We also make a few suggestions of our own.
• David Levering Lewis is the author of a landmark two-volume biography of W.E.B. DuBois. Each volume won the Pulitzer Prize for biography (the first time this happened for back-to back volumes), while the first also won the prestigious Francis Parkman Prize and the Bancroft Prize.
“Two books for me, my latest– God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 and W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919. As historical fiction can express the truth of our deepest wishes, my Islam book about the making of Europe recaptures a long-ago time of admirable interfaith cultural and economic cohabitation in Andalusia devoutly to be wished today. Similarly, the Du Bois biography prompts a reimagining of progressive social and economic options foreclosed by the cold war. I’ll also use W.E.B. Dubois’s Mansart Trilogy as a platform for my talk. It is a fictional historical trilogy that begins with Reconstruction and ends in the mid-20th century– with himself as thinly disguised protagonist.”
• Alison Lurie is the author of nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Foreign Affairs (1985). She and husband Edward Hower will co-teach a writers’ workshop in January focusing on the memoir, titled “Creating Writing from Personal History”
“I recommend my most recent novel, Truth and Consequences, along with The Last Resort, which is set in Key West, andFamiliar Spirits, a memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson, who lived in Key West. All of these books are, or as time passes are becoming, historical fiction, since they involve a new look at the past, and in the case of fiction an attempt to combine memory, research, and imagination. For a memoir, memory and research are essential, but imagination is dangerous, since what one hopes to do is to tell as much truth as possible.”
• Several of our panelists have books which are newly released or forthcoming. Among these are Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky’s Blindspot, Alan Cheuse’s To Catch the Lightning, and Barry Unsworth’s Land of Marvels, which will be released in January and will be available during the Seminar through Voltaire Books in the lobby of the San Carlos. We also recommend this year’s finalists for the National Book Award: Home by Marilynne Robinson, Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner, and Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen. Read more recommendations from our writers here. You’ll also find our authors talking about their work in our interview series here.