Roxana Robinson is an East Coast-based novelist and short story writer.
Cost, Sweetwater, Summer Light
The Washington Post's Five Best Novels of 2008, Four times among The New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Which one or two American books or plays would you yourself recommend to the foreign leaders?
Recommended books for foreign leaders: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, because it so beautifully articulates certain aspects of the American sensibility—its commitment to truth, the experience of the frontier, the sense of struggle between the idea and the world. The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, because it shows a sense of ruthlessness and frenzy that still obtains in American society, and the consequences. Also My Antonia, by Willa Cather, which tells a story of immigration and the early struggles between the people and the land.
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?
When I was a child, it was my mother who most encouraged me to read, and that by example. It was clear to us that reading was one of her greatest pleasures. She would go to bed at night with a bowl of ice cream and a volume of Simenon, in French. When we were children, she and my father read aloud to us, from lots of different kind of books, from the great ghost stories to James Thurber. Reading was at the center of our household and our conversation.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom) have been most important to you as a writer?
There are many books from other countries that have been important to me as a writer. My all-time favorite may be Anton Chekhov, who revealed, with his remarkably observant and compassionate eye, what life was like in 19th-century Russia—and everywhere else, throughout history. Other great favorites are Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which showed so gaily and elegantly how to render an entire family and its history; Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, another great chronicle of a family, and its mesmerizing descent; also Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, which enters into the sensibility of each of its characters with such understanding that the whole book is nearly unbearable. And there are more, of course.