Jonathan Lethem is a New York- and Maine-based novelist, essayist and short story writer.
Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, Chronic City, How We Got Insipid, Talking Heads' Fear Of Music
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award (Motherless Brooklyn), New York Times bestseller (The Fortress of Solitude), 2005 MacArthur Fellowship
Which one or two American books or plays would you recommend to the foreign leaders? Briefly, why?
The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead, a novel set around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. by an Australian-born novelist who also set books in London and Sydney, and who somehow captured in it a portrait of everything impossible and ineradicable in the spirit of American optimism.
Who in your childhood—for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
It begins for me with my mother's bookshelf, and her copy of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass, a very handsome Heritage Reprint edition in yellow cloth which contained a statement in the front that said: "This series of books has been made necessary by the government's wartime regulation that, whenever a book is reprinted, less paper must be used in the reprint." After the Carroll she next handed me Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and the die was cast. By the time of school, my teachers were mostly reduced to discouraging my reading.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, Russia) have affected you as a reader and/or been most important to you as a writer?
As the example of Carroll suggests, fiction in English from the United Kingdom was always as important to me as that from North America. Graham Greene was among my earliest favorites. Then, shortly after, in translation, Franz Kafka—who has been a lifelong obsession. I'm teaching his work this week to my university students.