Critically acclaimed, award-winning writer Mona Simpson has just published her sixth novel, Casebook, in which a teenage boy recruits his best friend to help investigate his mother's new boyfriend. Our reviewer calls the book "a wistful and knowing novel." (Read the full review right here.)
We were curious about the books Simpson has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
The Story of a New Name
By Elena Ferrante
If you've read and reread Alice Munro, William Trevor and William Maxwell, your first hours spent reading Elena Ferrante, an Italian novelist translated by Ann Goldstein and published in English only in the last decade, you'll feel you've not only been given a gift but also that you're being shown a huge store. Elena Ferrante is a pen name. All we know about the author is from her books; she does not make appearances, give interviews or submit to book tours. This is the second novel of her Neopolitan trilogy about an abiding friendship between two intelligent girls who strove to transcend the brutality and poverty of their childhoods through the fragile nets of education.
Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews
By Calvin Tomkins
This is how this beguiling slim book starts:
Paul Chan: When did you first meet Duchamp
Calvin Tomkins: That would have been 1959. I was working for Newsweek Magazine at the time. Newsweek in those days had no art coverage. But occasionally—two or three times a year maybe—there'd be a story on art some editor thought we should cover and so they'd pull a writer maybe—there’d be a story on art some editor thought we should cover and so they’d pull a writer from another section. I was writing for the foreign-news section at the time.
PC: Newsweek put you on the Duchamp beat.
CT: Right. I got the call one day to go and interview Marcel Duchamp, which was a complete surprise to me because I knew nothing whatsoever about art. And I guess I probably thought that he was long in the past. I’d heard of him, of course. The first monograph on him and his work ever published came out in ’59 in Paris and in New York, and the editor gave me a copy of the book. I only had a couple of hours to skim through it. The interview was already arranged. It was at the King Cole Bar in the entering the place and locating Duchamp. We sat down at a table, and he motioned toward the mural and said, “I like that, don’t you?” I assumed he was kidding, so I laughed. But then I started to realize that he did like it. That was the initial surprise: he thought it was wonderful. I don’t think I had a tape recorder in those days. But anyway we started talking, and I was taking notes.
PC: What was your first impression of him.
CT: The thing that really surprised and delighted me was that even though all my questions were very dumb and ignorant, he somehow managed to turn every one of them into something interesting. He had the most enchanting and easy manner. He was at home in his own skin, and he made me—and everybody around him—relaxed. I remember asking him, “Since you’ve stopped making art, how do you spend your time?” And he said, “Oh, I’m a breather, I’m a respirateur, isn’t that enough?”
After just this first part of the introduction, I was hooked. I wanted to know about both these men—the enigmatic Duchamp and the foreign-news reporter who begins to care about art.
Thinking, Fast and Slow
By Daniel Kahneman
This is an amazing book for the insights it reveals about the way our minds trick us. Even memory turns out to be subject to its own narrative conventions, and so the truth of experiences as we having them does not match what we later believe them to have been. There are a dozen discrepancies, fallacies, illusions and incongruences unearthed and revealed by Kahneman's research, but I love reading this book for its own submerged narrative about how he and his collaborator, Amos Tversky, gave each other the best years of their working lives.
It is a love story, about the romance of work.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Casebook—or any of Simpson's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Gasper Tringale)