Author likes to reread classics

Emma Donoghue

(Nina Subin)

Two countries, her native Ireland and her adopted Canada, claim the writer Emma Donoghue. Why wouldn’t they? Her novel “Room” was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and an international bestseller. She discusses her newest book, “Frog Music,” a mystery set in 19th century San Francisco, at Boston College’s Fulton Hall at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 9.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

DONOGHUE: I just finished “The Greatest Show on Earth” by Richard Dawkins. It’s brilliant. I now understand how evolution happens. I only had a basic idea before.

BOOKS: Is that a subject you usually read about?


DONOGHUE: I try to throw some popular science into the mix. Otherwise I can get stuck in my arty, literary ghetto. I read a riveting book on chemistry called “The Disappearing Spoon” by Sam Kean. I tried to read about genetics but was so bewildered by the DNA code.

BOOKS: What fiction are you reading?

DONOGHUE: I’m rereading all of Dickens’s books chronologically — just his major ones. I’m up to “David Copperfield.” I did the same thing with Shakespeare a few years ago. I like rereading, because as a fast reader I miss a lot. When I reread “Antony and Cleopatra” there were entire speeches that felt as if I’d never read them before.

BOOKS: Is there a book you recommend a lot?

DONOGHUE: An odd, young-adult book that I have loved ever since I was a teenager by Alan Garner, “Red Shift.” It tells parallel stories in different time periods: 1980s Britain, during the English Civil War in the 1600s, and when the Romans occupied the country. It has haunted me since I was a teenager. It’s probably why I write historical fiction. It was the first book that made me feel the past is not past.


BOOKS: What did you read for “Frog Music”?

DONOGHUE: I read about 20 novels set in 19th century America to see how the writers dealt with giving readers information. Many of them did dreadful jobs. You could almost see where the Wikipedia entry was glued in. I would recommend the wonderful western “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt; E.L. Doctorow’s novel “The March,” one of the best Civil War books I know; and Charles Frazier’s “Cold Mountain.”

BOOKS: Have you ever met your match with a book?

DONOGHUE: I never managed a word of Proust. I did a degree in French, but I never relaxed into the language. I feel I should read Proust in French, but I can’t. I never read a word of Faulkner. I tried rereading James Joyce’s “Ulysses” this year. It’s like poetry. It should be read one line at a time, but I was too tired.

BOOKS: What was the first book that had a big impact on you?

DONOGHUE: A babysitter read me C.S. Lewis’s entire Narnia cycle when I was maybe four or five. I remember sitting in the garden in the sunshine. It was in Dublin so I don’t know where all that sunshine came from. He read me “The Chronicles of Narnia,” and then he checked his pockets. They were full of chocolate bars. The combination of C.S. Lewis and chocolate bars formed a high point of my childhood.

BOOKS: What are your reading habits?

DONOGHUE: I don’t allow anything to cut me off from books. I have one within arm’s reach at all times. I always have one in my handbag. I talk to my kids over books. Whenever I feel bad about speaking to my kids while I’m reading Richard Dawkins I think of what a good example I’m setting. I also have a bookcase filled with all my books to be read. Some of the shelves are double stacked, which makes me feel panicky.


BOOKS: What do you think of people who have no books in their house?

DONOGHUE: They could be reading something on their Nook, but I tend to leap to the conclusion that they are morons. I feel they should keep some books around just to reassure prejudiced people like me.

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