6 questions we always ask — Norah Labiner, author


I remember buying Norah Labiner’s debut novel, Our Sometime Sister, from the Discover Great Writer’s shelf at the Barnes & Noble back in 1998 and it blowing my mind. I had made a steady habit of choosing from that shelf and many, many of those selections still reside in my collection. Labiner has a new novel out, German for Travelers: A Novel in 95 Lessons, and is celebrating its release with a reading on Thursday (April 30) at 7:30 p.m. at The Loft, 1011 Washington Ave. South, Minneapolis.

What book(s) are you currently reading?
Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic. It's a lexicon and labyrinth. Readers wander into the pages of the book and can't find their way out. It reminds me of Jan Potocki's The Manuscript Found in Saragossa and Boccaccio's Decameron. That is, they are stories about the telling of stories. Found manuscripts, charmers, death-cheaters, knee-tremblers, travelers' tales to pass the time-narratives that neither begin nor end, but exist as a rope between the reader and the writer. It's funny how what is now called “experimental” is based on a much more classical form of storytelling than the nineteenth century contraption called the “conventional” novel. Well, not funny ha-ha. Or maybe: ha-ha. Every great book begins as a joke. The joke is always on someone. I confess: I'm tired of books in which one thing happens and then another. And then it ends. It ends! Who wants a book to end?

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Who?
Raskolnikov: the murderer. Paris: the city. Begemot: the black cat. Lily: the caretaker's daughter, who was, of course, literally run off her feet.

If your favorite author came to Minnesota, who would it be and what bar would you take him/her to?
Writers-authors-are pretty rotten company. All they do is complain about this and about that: it's too hot; it's too cold; I'm poor; I'm hungry; no one loves me; my agent is an idiot; what's for dinner? What would I do? Maybe I would listen to a baseball game on the radio in my kitchen with Saul Bellow.

What was your favorite first book?
I used to really like Mad Magazine.

Let's say Fahrenheit 451 comes to life, which book would you become in order to save it from annihilation?
It's hard to imagine a world without Emma Bovary.

What is one book you haven't read but want to read before you die?
Between Dog and Wolf by Sasha Sokolov. It's rumored to be the best novel ever written, but it's so perfect that it's impossible to translate from Russian to any other language. They say that you have to read it with a spoon, a knife, and a magnifying glass. Wouldn't that be something?

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  1. W.J. Elvin 28.Apr.09 at 6:15 pm

    Just when I was tired as can be of searching dumb blogs and columns for something that pays dividends to the reader, this shows up and offers energy. Really enjoyed the perspectives, never thought I’d wish I could read Russian (Cyrillic?). Thanks for sharing it with the world …

  2. david 28.Apr.09 at 9:35 pm

    My favorite MN Reads interview yet… The Sokolov novel is indeed wondrous.

  3. Jodi Chromey 28.Apr.09 at 9:45 pm

    As bad as it is for me to say it, this is one of my faves too. I love the whole “And then it ends. It ends! Who wants a book to end?”


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