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Kate Zambreno Takes Issue With What Counts as ‘Literature’

What books are on your night stand?

A bit of a brag, but I just got the Annie Ernaux box set from Seven Stories. I’m teaching all 13 books for a graduate seminar on Ernaux this semester, and there were a few I didn’t have. It’s still wrapped in plastic — the combination of open cups and the humidifier is often risky. Also, galleys by friends whose workI’ve been in conversation with for more than a decade — Suzanne Scanlon’s “Committed,” Danielle Dutton’s “Prairie, Dresses, Art, Other”and Sofia Samatar’s “Opacities.”

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

Anywhere there are not children in my ear.

What’s the last great book you read?

I am currently reading Magda Szabo’s “The Door,” and it’s all I can think about. It’s like I’m living in that claustrophobic dyad between two women in a Hungarian village.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you?

Probably revealing that I devoured the romances when I was too young to understand them — “Gone With the Wind,” “Wuthering Heights.”

What kind of reading do you do with your own children?

Their father more often reads to them. But I like reading them the Chirri & Chirra picture books by Kaya Doi, published in translation from the Japanese by Enchanted Lion Books. Two sisters ride their bicycles and go on all of these charming magical adventures. We’ve gone through Moomins phases as well. My oldest also loves being read Tove Jansson’s “The Summer Book,” one of my favorites.

How do you organize your books?

I write in “Heroines” that I organize books by literary gossip. There’s still some of that — also relation and influence — often by language or country. The Austrian Great Haters (Elfriede Jelinek, Ingeborg Bachmann, Thomas Bernhard), next to Sebald next to Walser. The French (Marie NDiaye, Hervé Guibert, Duras), Japanese (Yoko Tawada, Mieko Kanai, Hiroko Oyamada, Yuko Tsushima), a shelf of Spanish language (César Aira next to Enrique Vila-Matas next to Jazmina Barrera). Dorothee Elmiger (my German translator), who alsopublished Heike Geissler’s “Seasonal Associate” in the original German. Iman Mersal next to Haytham El-Wardany, translated from the Arabic.

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