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What Kansans are reading: Warren Farha

  • Published Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012, at 7:14 a.m.

Warren Farha is the owner of Eighth Day Books

What kinds of books do you enjoy reading, and why?

I never tire of reading history in an array of areas: American history, church history, Byzantine history, micro-histories, that is, histories that focus on specific topics often never considered for full-length treatment (e.g. “Dust: A History of the Small and the Invisible” by Joseph A. Amato, or “The History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage, or a study of 18th century medicine by Guy Williams titled – indicatively – “The Age of Agony.”

I do of course love literary fiction (I’ve never acquired a taste for mysteries, or science fiction, or detective fiction, which saddens me in a way since many friends and literary geniuses admire and luxuriate in these genres). My reading of fiction usually comes in addictive bursts: this past summer I read in rapid succession Thornton Wilder’s sprawling, metaphysically inflected “The Eighth Day” (finally, after all these years); “The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard,” by Erin McGraw; and “Rock Island Line” and “Driftless” by David Rhodes, (“the best writer you’ve never heard of,” as a Books & Culture review memorably described him). All of these were rich, rich, rich.

Other favorites over the past decade or two must include the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations of “The Brothers Karamazov,” and Dostoevsky’s other great works, “Demons” and “The Idiot,” Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping” and “Gilead,” Leif Enger’s “Peace Like a River,” Debra Dean’s “Madonnas of Leningrad,” Wendell Berry’s “Jayber Crow” and “Hannah Coulter,” Sigrid Undset’s “Kristin Lavransdatter,” and going back to my early 20’s, honor must be paid to “The Lord of the Rings.” My forays into fiction, though not frequent, usually yield reading experiences that are permanently memorable, sometimes even life-transforming.

I also love essays and literary criticism, which together form one of the largest sections of our store. Standouts in this category have to include (for me) George Steiner’s “In Bluebeard’s Castle” and Tolstoy or Dostoevsky; C.S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses,” “Christian Reflections” and “God in the Dock”; Flannery O’Connor’s “Mystery and Manners”; Marilynne Robinson’s collections “The Death of Adam” and “When I Was a Child I Read Books”; Paul Elie’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”; Paul Johnson’s “Intellectuals”; and Wendell Berry’s “What Are People For?” and “Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community.”

What are you reading right now?

“Mirrored Worlds,” a new novel by Debra Dean.

“Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives,” by John Sutherland.

“Vladimir, the Russian Viking,” by Vladimir Volkhoff (just finished).

“The Philokalia,” an anthology of texts on the spiritual life from the 4th to the 14th centuries, compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain ca. 1800, translated into English beginning in the 1950’s. (A group of us have been reading this together, aloud, for the past ten years.)

“The Spirit of Early Christian Thought,” by Robert Wilken (another book group book).

“The Tartar Steppe,” by Dino Buzzati (published in 1938, emphatically recommended to me by a publisher sales rep).

“Tinkers,” by Paul Harding

What books do you recommend when people ask for a good book?

Critically important: finding out what that person has recently read and enjoyed. That done, I usually refer to one or more of the books I’ve already mentioned.

What is one of your all-time favorite books?

Seriously, one book? Okay, here goes: “The Brothers Karamazov.”

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