Ian buruma by the book – the new york times calories in apple butter

Ian buruma, whose new book is the memoir “A tokyo romance,” prefers villains to heroes: “it is hard to write about a good person without making him or her look like a bore.”

Since I have to read so much for my work, I read only for pure pleasure at home. These are the books that are presently on my stand: “ma’am darling,” by craig brown; “promise at dawn,” by romain gary; “king zeno,” by nathaniel rich; and “house of sleeping beauties,” by yasunari kawabata.

My kindle has inspired me to read some of the many great classics I’ve never read before. I don’t know why having a kindle helps. Perhaps because so many classics are freely available at the click of a mouse. Also, getting older, my inclination is to read books I never got round to, rather than keeping up with the latest books to come out. The last great book was stendhal’s “the red and the black.” I’ve read a few good books since.


But great is not a word to use lightly.Good person

I read cecil beaton’s diaries and learned that he was not just the cold, egotistical, snob that I thought he was. There were some surprising hints of a human heart ticking somewhere behind the powdered exterior. Not that I would read his diaries to confirm what a fine fellow he was. Like all good diarists, beaton was not afraid to reveal his weaknesses. That is why the best diaries are written by awful people who are narcissistic enough to put all their awfulness on display. Continue reading the main story

Which fiction and nonfiction writers — playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — inspired you most early in your career? And which writers working today do you most admire?

V. S. Naipaul, simon leys, arthur koestlerand christopher isherwood. As an adolescent, I was thrilled by henry miller, but perhaps not for entirely literary reasons. Another influence was john cleland’s “fanny hill: memoirs of a woman of pleasure,” which I found on my father’s bookshelves.Good person again, literary merit was of secondary importance. I recognize that it is unusual to get one’s sexual education from an 18th-century porn novel, but I didn’t have the benefit (or the curse) of the internet when I grew up, nor much opportunity to learn on the job, as it were. Current writers I admire are elif batuman, emmanuel carrère and adam thirlwell.

Apart from V. S. Naipaul, bruce chatwin (who hated being called a travel writer). I now rather shy away from travel writing. Some of the best books on travel are wholly imaginary, i.E. “rené leys,” by victor segalen, a fiction about a european in the last imperial chinese court, or indeed “gulliver’s travels.” then there is frederic prokosch’s “the asiatics,” a book about travels in the orient by an author who had never ventured further east than berlin. Perhaps I should also include laurence sterne’s “A sentimental journey through france and italy.”

hard write

I think fiction is the best way to understand another culture. Anything by junichiro tanizaki, most of nagai kafu, or kawabata. I should mention, too, “ozu: his life and films,” by donald richie, the american writer who taught me more about japan than anyone. He learned about japan when he first arrived in tokyo in the late 1940s by endlessly watching movies. This is not a bad idea. I believe kazuo ishiguro did the same before writing his first novels set in the country of his birth. In any case, I followed richie’s example. I find it more interesting to learn about people’s fantasies than about who they really are.

I can’t stand science fiction. Apart from that, I’m fairly omnivorous. Well, I admit I haven’t read many westerns, even though holly martins (joseph cotten), the writer of westerns in “the third man,” is one of my favorite movie characters. In popular fiction I like crime stories: raymond chandler and elmore leonard.Good person I also adore carl hiaasen.

Von sternberg’s “the blue angel,” which is better than heinrich mann’s novel. Great novels rarely make good films. “midnight cowboy” was a wonderful film of a so-so novel. This means that if I recommend a book for a movie, this might be construed as a put down. The great exceptions to this rule are charles dickens and graham greene, I suppose because they were very visual writers and masters of plot.

I’ve always had a soft spot for disney’s the big bad wolf. I very much like julien sorel in “the red and the black,” and valmont in “dangerous liaisons.” villains are always more appealing. It is hard to write about a good person without making him or her look like a bore. Real life is a little different. Hitler is a fine subject. I don’t think I’d like to have met him. Perhaps this means that great villains can also be great bores.

I was not precocious, so I read the conventional english books: enid blyton, et cetera.Hard write growing up in the netherlands, I also read stories about a fat boy called dik trom who stole apples from the neighboring orchard — an example of amusing mischief a long time ago. I then graduated to memoirs of spitfire pilots.

This president doesn’t read, so I’d like him to watch the marx brothers’ “duck soup,” which my friend and former publisher jason epstein calls the best thing ever done on war.

Oscar wilde, to keep the conversation going, jane austen and murasaki shikibu. The gossip would be good. Not much chance of anyone bragging about the children. There might be a bit of a language problem, especially with the author of “the tale of genji,” but since this is an imaginary party, I’m assuming that she would speak perfect, though perhaps rather old fashioned english.