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‘Leah Hager Cohen: By the Book’

The New York Times
May 23rd, 2014 by 

The New York Times sits down with critically acclaimed nonfiction writer and novelist, and the Jenks Chair of Contemporary American Letters at the College of the Holy Cross, Leah Hager Cohen to talk about books—books that have made her furious, inspired her, and even ones that have yet to find home on her night stand. “There has been no period in my life when I didn’t guzzle books,” says Cohen. With years of being read to as a child as her foundation—books from “The Fools of Chelm” to “D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths”—Cohen makes her close connection with books evident. She notes Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift,” as the last great book she has read, calling it a “generous, unsettling, chimerical work.” Cohen is not as generous with “The Da Vinci Code,” saying that although she typically has a kind of “allergic reaction to water-cooler books,” this one somehow managed to slide past her “fortifications,” sucking her in, but in the end leaving her irritated at how “unbelievably bad” it was. Cohen also shares some of her literary heroes, like Iona Opie and Peter Schumann, as well as literary oversights, like Milton and Conrad.

After responding to a question about hosting a hypothetical literary dinner party, Cohen proposes her own hypothetical party:  “Now might I pretend you asked the same question about fictional characters?” says Cohen. “Because I have a fantasy of doing something similar with Mrs. Ramsay from “To the Lighthouse” and Ellen Fairchild from “Delta Wedding.” I think they would find each other kindred; they are both so lovely and mysterious, full of sad beauty and lightly worn grace. And there’s so much we never get to learn about their lives! I would tempt them with lemonade and cake and settle in the grass at their feet, all hope, all ears.”

This is a “Holy Cross in the News” item by Evangelia Stefanakos.

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