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Author, Twitter follower

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol OatesStar Black

Joyce Carol Oates is always described as prolific when it comes to her 50-plus novels. Add to that her other writings, especially her book reviews, and another adjective yet to be invented seems needed. She reads from her new book, “The Accursed,” at Coolidge Corner Theatre on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Tickets are required.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

OATES: I’ve been reading novels I was possibly going to review, but I decided not to. I read new books continuously that are sent to me by book review editors, but they are somewhat miscellaneous.

BOOKS: How much of your reading does that take up?


OATES: It might be half. I also reread a lot of books for myself and because I teach. I spend a lot of time thinking about the craft of prose, so when I read it may be different from the way most people do. I’m always looking at the way something is put together with considerable admiration.

BOOKS: What works are you teaching currently?

OATES: I’m teaching a class at UC Berkeley this term, and we are reading an anthology of the best American short stories. We just read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” which most of the students hadn’t read before. They loved it.

BOOKS: What’s a favorite of yours in the anthology?

OATES: I like the Paul Bowles story “A Distant Episode.” That is not that well known, but it’s brilliant.

BOOKS: What kind of rereading do you do for yourself?

OATES: I’m likely to just reread parts of novels. I’ll open Faulkner and read a section or something by D.H. Lawrence. I do a lot of rereading of Emily Dickinson’s poems. You can reread her all your life because she’s so subtle.

BOOKS: What else do you read?

OATES: I follow 30 people on Twitter, which makes for a kind of online magazine. Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times posts about 15 times a day. He’ll have links to photographs and other sites. I also follow Daniel Mendelsohn, Andrew Sulllivan, Margaret Atwood, and Steve Martin. In a way it’s like going into a vast library where someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “You might like this article,” which you’d never know about otherwise. I was reading a lot of articles in England’s New Statesman. I would never see them without Twitter. I’m interested in poetry, and some links will take me to poetry sites.


BOOKS: Which poets do you read?

OATES: I’ve been recently reading and rereading Robert Frost, who I think is taken for granted but was an extraordinary genius. Now that he’s been dead so long and his personality vanished, we have just the poetry, and it’s a remarkable body of work. When he gave readings he was mobbed with people who loved him. It was a little like a Mark Twain performance. He would read his greatest hits, never the more subtle poems or the dark ones. He didn’t want his audience to be depressed. He wanted that adulation. It’s an interesting example of when the personality disappears the work remains and is sometimes enhanced by the person not being there anymore.

BOOKS: Do you have an all-time favorite book?

OATES: I would say Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” which had an enormous effect on me. I think young people today might not realize how readable that novel is. The other book that I worry no one reads anymore is James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” It’s not easy, but every page is wonderful and repays the effort.


BOOKS: When did you read “Ulysses?’’

OATES: I started reading it in high school, but I wasn’t really able to grasp it. Then I read it in college. I once spent six weeks in a graduate seminar reading it. It takes that long. That’s the problem. No one reads that way anymore. People may spend a week with a book, but not six.

Amy Sutherland

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