Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Spring 2009: Long Tail—Roxana Robinson and Martin Riker

By James Marcus

Although we posted our omnibus summary of responses back in May, we will continue to highlight individual choices through the summer. To continue the Long Tail series, we have suggestions from novelist and fierce Chekhovian Roxana Robinson, whose most recent book is Cost, and from the Perec-mad Martin Riker, associate director of the Dalkey Archive Press. (A reminder: we asked respondents which work in translation had the deepest effect on their reading and writing.)

ROXANA ROBINSON: How can you ask such a question? Chekhov, Chekhov, Chekhov! imageWho else delivers such a huge, beautiful, intricate and perfectly observed world? Who else creates such small exquisite panels, ones that fit so flawlessly into the great tapestry of human desire? Who else feels such a deep and abiding compassion for the people among whom he lives? Those people whose lives he reveals and forgives?

How can you ask such a question?

MARTIN RIKER: That would be one or all of Georges Perec’s novels. imageIf I had to pick one, it would be Life, A User’s Manual, unless it was W, or a Memory of Childhood. Although it might also be his early novel, Things. These are the translated titles, to which I resort because I don’t speak or read French. I once had the occasion to write to the translator of these books, David Bellos, and I took the opportunity to let him know that Perec is my favorite writer, and that, since a translator is to a large extent the creative force behind a translated work, he, David Bellos, is also, in a palpable way, my favorite writer. Few writers have opened up the possibilities of literary art with as much enthusiasm, mastery, and pleasure as Perec.