A graduate of Princeton and Stanford, Selden Edwards is a former English teacher and headmaster of several private schools. He lives near Santa Barbara, Calif. The Little Book, published by Dutton last Thursday, is his first novel.
On your nightstand now:
I am one who seems always to be reading 10 books at once, and they are all lying in various states of should-finish all over the house. Recent books in these piles are Geraldine Brooks's March, biographies of William James and J.P. Morgan (next-novel research), Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower and Beth Gutcheon's delightful newest novel, Good-bye and Amen.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Favorites among those read to me were Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Paddle to the Sea. In my early years of school, it became obvious that I was not learning to read properly. When I was eight and nine, I was helped by a kindly reading specialist named Mrs. Camper, who introduced me to abridged large-print classics. It was a brilliant strategy. I loved large sprawling stories, and I read with passion and relish abbreviated versions of Moby Dick, The Last of the Mohicans, A Tale of Two Cities and The Count of Monte Cristo. I also loved Classic Illustrated comics.
Your top five authors:
Along with being a headmaster, I spent 40 years as a high-school English teacher, so I have read and taught many of the classics many times. I would have to say that The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn and Salinger's Nine Stories are my favorites. Reading on my own, I'd say John Le Carre, John Irving, Richard Ford, Larry McMurtry, E.L. Doctorow, Tom Robbins and Pat Conroy have given me the very best high-involvement reads over the years. The Prince of Tides, for me, is the very top of the pyramid I have been trying for many years to scale with my own writing.
Book you've faked reading:
Because of the difficulty I have with reading, I am embarrassed to admit that over my lifetime as a student, teacher and general conversationalist, I have shamefully "faked" countless times; sometimes so much that even I don't remember that I didn't read the book. Prominent among all those fakings would be all of Jane Austen, Don Quixote and David Copperfield.
Book you're an evangelist for:
In our early days of parenting, my wife and I were zealots for Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott. Later, as a school leader I got pretty worked up over The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge and Please Understand Me by Isabel Briggs Myers. As a teacher, I promoted many works of fiction with the passion of an evangelist. Among them were Henry V, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye and My Antonia by Willa Cather. Even today I tell people, "If you haven't read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, do it."
Book you've bought for the cover:
I'm not one unduly affected by a cover. But when my book was being designed, I suddenly became very interested. I loved the covers of Cold Mountain, Suite Francaise and the second Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Book that changed your life:
The aforementioned Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Malt and The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell all changed my way of looking at the world.
Favorite line from a book:
The first sentence in Kafka's The Metamorphosis, the last sentence in Gone with the Wind and the last paragraph in The Great Gatsby are among my favorites. But my favorite favorite line, the one I have incorporated into my own favored lexicon, is from Kurt Vonnegut's magnificent Slaughterhouse Five: "So it goes."
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
It is rare that I just pick up a book and keep going until I finish it. Books that have captivated me from the first few pages and kept me going are The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Lonesome Dove, The Cider House Rules, Roots, Independence Day, The Prince of Tides. With any of them, I'd love to erase the old memory bank and start over again, afresh.