‘Find Me’ author André Aciman sticks to the classics

André Aciman
André AcimanChristopher Ferguson (custom credit)/Christopher Ferguson

For years fans of André Aciman’s novel “Call Me By Your Name,” which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film, begged the author for a sequel. At last they have gotten their wish, mostly. With his new novel, “Find Me,” the story shifts to Samuel, the father of one of the two young lovers in the earlier novel. Aciman, who teaches literary theory at the City University of New York, began his writing career with the 1995 memoir “Out of Egypt,” about his family’s deportation from Alexandria to Italy in 1965. He lives in New York City.

BOOKS: How do you pick what you read?


ACIMAN: I judge a book by the first two lines. I pick up a tonality, which either pleases me or doesn’t. A good example is W.G. Sebald. He is one of the last contemporary writers who has grabbed me. Someone suggested I read his novel “The Emigrants,” and by the first two lines I knew I would learn things I’ve never known before. He’s a great stylist, even in English, which is not his mother tongue. Though I adore Jane Austen, I only recently read “Persuasion” for the first time. You can tell right away that book is going to be fantastic.

BOOKS: What are you reading now?

ACIMAN: I’m reading “Budapest 1900” by John Lukacs, because I was recently in Budapest. I never do my homework before I go somewhere. I buy a book as I’m leaving, read it on the plane home, and then think I should have seen this and that.

BOOKS: Do you regularly read history?

ACIMAN: Yes, in fact my favorite writer is not a novelist but a historian — Thucydides. I’ve never read anything as tragic, smart, and ironic about human stupidity as the “History of the Peloponnesian War.” I’m always interested in spite.


BOOKS: What else would draw you to a book?

ACIMAN: I’m interested in books that have characters who are not drug addicted or alcoholic, but smart, well-educated people sitting across the table from each other either trying to seduce each other or understand each other. I love psychological situations. So I go to writers like Dostoyevsky. I also love Stendhal for the same reason. Most people want plot but I don’t have patience for that any longer. I can enjoy a detective novel but I won’t take it seriously. However, John le Carré intimidates me because he’s a fantastic writer and stylist. I love “The Naïve and Sentimental Lover” the most, which is his book most people haven’t read.

BOOKS: How have you changed as a reader?

ACIMAN: I tried to reread “Crime and Punishment” about 40 years after I first read it. I read 150 pages and it was work. I never felt like reading a book was work when I was young but now it can sometimes feel like a slog, even with Proust, who I teach every two years.

BOOKS: What kind of a reader were you like as a kid?

ACIMAN: I hated Italy after we left Egypt so I shut myself in a room and read. I bought at least one book every week. I had an American book, “Good Reading,” which had all the recommended classics in it broken down by countries. I read most of the books in there. When we left Italy for America I wanted to leave my books behind, but my father said, “Absolutely not. These are part of who you are.” He’d left all his books in Egypt when we left. He didn’t want me to do the same thing. I still have those books in my office.


BOOKS: How often do you read contemporary literature?

ACIMAN: It’s a well-known fact that I hardly read contemporary literature. I have to read Penelope Lively’s “Moon Tiger” because I have to write an introduction for it. Am I bedazzled by it? No. I want to read classics. Things that are current make me feel uneasy. My roots are not quite settled, so I’m always looking for things that are timeless. I don’t even understand why people read my books on the subway instead of Thucydides.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.