COINCIDENCES & CONNECTIONS
Maximillian Arambulo is our Type Reader for July
What is the first book you remember loving?
In elementary school, I had close to the entire set of those Encyclopedia Brown novels. They followed the adventures of 12-year-old Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown who ran a detective agency out of his family’s garage: 25 cents per day, plus expenses - No case too small. In each mystery, say “The Case of the Kidnapped Pigs” or “The Case of the Civil War Sword”, there’d be some kind of inconsistency or some character would lie and you could try to solve the case alongside Encyclopedia: you’d flip to the answers in the back of the book and see if you were as right and as industrious as our genius boy detective. For example, could you figure out how, before flipping to the back, Encyclopedia knew that that stolen civil war sword was a fake? (It had an inscription reading ‘The First Battle of Bull Run - 1861’ but whoever inscribed it couldn’t have known there’d be a second battle of Bull Run before it even happened, duh.)
What is your favorite virtue of a book?
I love books that stir me. It's pretty incredible that there are books that make me walk around the world feeling a bit altered, that make me see things a bit differently. I’m thinking of stuff like Austerlitz (there are coincidences and connections everywhere!) and H is for Hawk (how different and strange I’ll be after grief!).
What do you appreciate most in a book character?
These days, I seem to be feeling a bit of affinity with characters who are really aware of how messy ordinary life is and who are trying to be ok with that. In Stoner, William Stoner does it with stoicism. In My Struggle, Knausgaard does it through art-making. In Gilead, Reverend Ames does it with spiritual stuff like grace, forgiveness, and kindness. These days, I find myself a little skeptical of the idea that we’re all supposed to have these really neat, calm lives. FYI I'm thinking Ames might be the closest of the above to figuring it out.
What character do you dislike the most?
Initially, I had a pretty intense dislike for the title character in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. He’s this 30-year-old New York writer in a relationship with a girl he can’t admit he doesn’t like all that much. He struggles to break up with her because he sees himself as such a good, caring person and he can’t bear to be seen otherwise. It’s out of his own vanity that he doesn’t want to hurt her which means, of course, that he hurts her even more deeply. By the end of the book, I wasn’t sure if he’d understood that in romantic single life you just have to be at peace with the fact that you’ll sometimes be mercenary and selfish and hurtful and disliked. It’s a quietly great book because dislike is only the first thing you should feel for him. You may end up feeling things like pity and shame. And, if you’re lucky, you might even identify with him and find that discovery so shocking that, after reading it, you accidentally stay celibate for a year and seven months.
If you were to write a non-fiction book, what would it be about?
The Biographical Dictionary of Film by the movie critic David Thomson is an important book to me. It’s in its sixth edition and he’s been adding entries about directors and actors for about the last 30 years. He can be a bit cheeky when he dislikes (e.g. when he says Keira Knightley has the charisma of freezer-burned crème brulee). He also loves better than anyone (in his entry about James Toback: “Dear Jim, you may not know it, but you are the best friend I feel obliged to include in this book…”). The dictionary reminds me that thinking about pop culture and art can be a really valuable and creative way to think about my own life. Geoff Dyer says that the book might be one of the greatest works of autobiography since it reveals more about Thomson than it does anyone he writes about. In that spirit, I’d like to write a book about a movie that means a lot to me. I would probably pick Soderbergh’s Out of Sight since I love that it’s the best combination of sexy, sad, and cool.
Who are your favorite prose authors?
WG Sebald (because he makes me feel that dizziness that comes with understanding how connected I am to the people that came before me and will come after me), Lydia Davis (because she gets so much truth out of the least amount of words), Nabokov (because he gets so much fun out of the most amount of words), David Foster Wallace (because he writes about people who can’t stop thinking about how they’re thinking).
Who are your favorite poets?
Kanye West and Drake and Future and Andre 3000.
Do you read while commuting?
90% of how I get around in Toronto is on foot which means I have good calves but that I also read about 40% less books in a year than I otherwise would.
What do you like reading on vacation?
Sort of corny but I think it’s fun reading something set exactly where I’m vacationing. I remember being in an Amsterdam bar and reading Camus’s The Fall, which is told from the POV of a guy who’s sitting in an Amsterdam bar. I also read The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay when I was living just outside of Prague so that opening scene on the Charles Bridge was particularly vivid.
What book have you never read but have always meant to?
I just read At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell and I feel like it rescued me from having to read a whole bunch of existentialist primary texts. It’s a fun overview of all those great mid-20th century thinkers and their works and it isn’t shy about explaining which of their ideas are worth holding on to and which I can pay no mind. So now I can, guilt-free, skip Being and Time, Being and Nothingness, and The Second Sex.
What book do you pretend to have read, but in fact have not?
I love citing How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read by Pierre Bayard and explaining how there’s so much that you can access in the cultural air about an important work so as to appear like you’ve read said-important work. For example, paraphrasing and quoting (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”; “Call me Ishmael.”) are good strategies according to Bayard or at least I’d assume according to him because I haven’t actually read How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, I’m just guessing.
If you could force a celebrity to read a book in its entirety, who would you choose and what book would you make them read?
Doesn’t Lolita make Woody Allen feel ashamed and, like, the most awful, base cliché? He has to have read it, right?
What are you reading right now?
Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name. Also, a really beautiful collection of essays about reading books called The Nearest Thing to Life by James Wood (“She went on to quote something a Canadian novelist has said to her when her own father had died: that now he was dead, she suddenly missed him at all their ages. She missed him as he had been when she was a nine-year-old girl, and as he had been when she was a teenager, and when she was twenty-eight, and thirty-five, and so on.”)