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Novelist Colm Tóibín likes to take his reading lying down

Colm Tóibín.Brigitte Lacombe

Colm Tóibín has written a long list of short stories, essays, plays, and novels, including “Brooklyn,” which was recently adapted into a critically-acclaimed film. The Irish writer, a professor at Columbia University, comes to Boston on Wednesday to give a Lowell Humanities Series lecture on writing and violence at 7 p.m. at Boston College’s Gasson Hall. Tóibín will also speak at 12 p.m. Thursday at the Boston Public Library as part of its Author Talk Series and at 6 p.m. Friday as part of BC’s three-day conference on the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. All of the events are free.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?


TÓIBÍN: I am back reading Henry James for a catalogue essay I’m writing and have almost finished “Roderick Hudson,” which I haven’t read for 40 years. Some of the coincidences in the book are too crude, but the overall emotional shape is marvelous. It is an early book, but it throws great light on James’s work to come, especially “The Princess Casamassima” and “The Ambassadors.” One of the characters from “Roderick Hudson,” Christina Light, re-appears in “The Princess Casamassima” as the princess herself, and another re-appears in “The Ambassadors.”

BOOKS: When did you first start reading James?

TÓIBÍN: I read “The Portrait of a Lady” when I was 19 for no special reason. As I get older James is better and better, with more depth and density, especially with “The Portrait of a Lady,” “The Ambassadors,” and “The Golden Bowl.”

BOOKS: How do you convince people who shy away from James to give him a try?

TÓIBÍN: I would maybe suggest “The Turn of the Screw,” but it’s best maybe not to tell people what they should be reading.

BOOKS: Are there any other authors that you reread?

TÓIBÍN: Jane Austen, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, W.B. Yeats. I can still find new things in each reading of their works.


BOOKS: What was your last great read?

TÓIBÍN: I recently read Ferdinand Mount’s “The Tears of the Rajas,” which is about 700 pages long and covers the history of what the British did in India during the 19th century. It is beautifully written and paced, perceptive and then also very dark.

BOOKS: Who has influenced you as a reader?

TÓIBÍN: I didn’t learn to read until I was about nine, so I am not sure I was influenced by anyone. It was all sort of miserable.

BOOKS: Do you own a book that has special significance for you?

TÓIBÍN: I have a copy of Henry James’s novel “The Tragic Muse,” which he signed to his sister Alice. I have a lot of the poet Thom Gunn’s books that are signed and that he owned himself.

BOOKS: Is there an author you wish were better known?

TÓIBÍN: I notice that fewer people seem to be reading Wallace Stevens and talking about his work. I suppose he is well known. But when was the last time you or anyone else sat down in the evening with his collected poems? Or took that volume down on a Sunday morning and skipped Mass and relished his phrasing, his bravery, his gorgeous imagery?

BOOKS: Is there a book you were surprised to have liked?

TÓIBÍN: Recently, I have read a good number of biographies of Irish nationalist leaders, Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and found myself intrigued by the old story of the struggle for Irish independence.


BOOKS: Given your travel writing, do you also read it?

TÓIBÍN: I read Jan Morris. I like “Venice” best, but her trilogy on the history of the British Empire is also wonderful.

BOOKS: Do you have any favorite reading memories or favorite places to read?

TÓIBÍN: I read lying down on a sofa. That is what I want to do as soon as I see a sofa, lie down on it and read. My friend Denis Looby, who is a great architect, designed me two identical sofas that are long and wide. I live on them.


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