Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Naomi J. Williams

Naomi J. Williams was born in Japan and spoke no English until she was six years old. Her debut novel, Landfalls, is a fictionalized account of the 18th-century Lapérouse expedition that left Brest in 1785 with two frigates, more than two hundred men, and overblown Enlightenment ideals and expectations, in a brave attempt to circumnavigate the globe for science and the glory of France.

Reecently I asked Williams about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m always juggling multiple books simultaneously. Currently I’m reading three works of fiction. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is my book club’s September selection; it’s just as compelling and mesmerizing a read as the hype had led me to expect. I’m also reading a local writer, Maceo Montoya. He’s a visual artist, fiction writer, and professor of Chicana/o Studies at UC Davis. His first novel, The Scoundrel and the Optimist (Bilingual Review, 2010), relates a pretty difficult family story in the most disarmingly light-hearted, even artless fashion.

The third book is Edward Seidensticker’s translation of The Tale of Genji. I’m in the middle of a project to read all the major English-language translations of Murasaki Shikibu’s sprawling classic. I read Royall Tyler’s 2001 translation earlier this year. After this one, I’ll read Arthur Waley’s version. And I understand there’s yet another new translation, by Dennis Washburn, so I’ll add that to the list.

My current poetry reading is Denise Levertov’s Candles in Babylon. Just this morning I loved this line from her “Eyes and No-Eyes”: “no one cares to be praised by mistake.” So perfect and true.

And finally, my latest non-fiction read, which I just finished this morning, is Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext, part of Graywolf’s miraculous “The Art of” series. It’s the third one I’ve read this summer. Next up is Sven Birkerts’ The Art of Time in Memoir.
Visit Naomi J. Williams's website.

The Page 69 Test: Landfalls.

--Marshal Zeringue