Book Brahmin: Jonathan Levi

photo: Jeanette Barron

Jonathan Levi, author of Septimania (The Overlook Press, April 5, 2016), is an American writer and producer, a founding editor of Granta and author of A Guide for the Perplexed. His short stories and articles have appeared in many magazines and his plays and opera libretti have been widely performed. He lives in Rome, Italy.

On your nightstand now:

Reading Tim Parks on Garibaldi and Pinocchio in his Literary Tour Through Italy. Re-living the '70s in London while re-reading Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia. And marveling at Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth--not since Steven Millhauser has an author taken me on such a long, strange trip.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My father brought Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding back with him from Australia in 1942, while his own father was serving as a military chaplain with the Allies in the Pacific. The story of three friends dedicated to preserving a magic pudding which can not only walk and talk but reform itself no matter how many times it's eaten, it became my World War II survival myth while preparing me for both Ali Baba and Julia Child.

Your top five authors:

Discounting the divinely uncredited authors of Genesis and One Thousand and One Nights: Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett for their wackiness, Edith Wharton and Hunter S. Thompson for gouging out the eye of Dickens and pasting it onto the face of the New World, and Jorge Luis Borges for convincing me that the life of the mind has a place in the universal library.

Book you've faked reading:

Pride and Prejudice. I came to Jane Austen too late in life and copped out with the popcorn and film digests of Greer Garson and Aishwarya Rai.

Book you're an evangelist for:

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, from 2008. The astonishingly original debut novel of the young Bosnian Saša Stanišić makes me evangelize for more, much more translation of literature from foreign languages.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Golfing for Cats. With that title, and a big swastika on the cover, how could I not? Turned out that the author, Alan Coren, chose the title having discovered that golf, cats and the Third Reich sold more books than any other category. No idea what was actually inside.

Book you hid from your parents:

John Cleland's Fanny Hill. Nuff said?

Book that changed your life:

Louis Ginzberg's seven-volume Legends of the Jews, where I learned that the Jews have a mythology as rich as the Greeks or the Norse.

Favorite line from a book:

"Nice things are nicer than nasty ones." Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim has at least three of my top 10 faves, including the best description of a hangover outside a bottle of aspirin, but this is perhaps the nicest.

Five books you'll never part with:

My mother's copies of James Joyce's Ulysses and James Thurber's A Thurber Carnival, which she claims she read when she was pregnant with me; an autographed García Márquez El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera; the first issue of Granta with the type set askew--no one warned us against pasting up in a pub. And my childhood copies of A.A. Milne's Now We Are Six.

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

Anna Karenina, not just to fall in love with Anna afresh, but to sit again with her brother Stiva and Levin at the England restaurant in Moscow for a lunch of oysters and turbot.

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