Discussions on the art and craft of research

Inspired by the Book: A Russian Translation of Conan the Barbarian

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

Chris Colbath. Born and raised in the greater Seattle area. Studied Russian literature for a long time, plus some other stuff. Lover of big riffs, good books. Dog lover. Family man. Renaissance man—if the Renaissance were born in a dive bar in Groton and not in, like, Florence.

What’s the last great book you read?

Alexander Herzen’s My Past and Thoughts

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

Tolstoy at his best is pretty hard to beat. And I don’t just mean Resurrection.

Was there a book that particularly inspired you?

Witold Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke. It works as fiction, creative non-fiction… A book for everybody, every time.

Was there an author who particularly inspired you?

Andrei Bely, who was a truly experimental writer. As alchemy and the other sciences teach us, most experiments result in failure. Most of Bely’s certainly did. But one success makes it all worthwhile.

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

Andrei Bely’s Petersburg

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Some bibliographic scars from grad school are still there: Foucault, Derrida, that kind of thing. I guess it’s I who am surprised they haven’t been removed yet.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Good stuff.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Maybe the “Copendium” by Julian Cope. His excellent taste in music makes up for any writerly excesses. In my house, the record shelves are as important as the book shelves, and his Head Heritage series has greatly enriched the former.

What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become… [fill in the blank]?

A Russian translation of Conan the Barbarian made me want to play bass in a rock band. And now I’m doin’ it. Books are magic.

Are there economists whose writing you especially admire?

Not really, but I am fond of President George H. W. Bush’s term “voodoo economics,” which I view as having the broadest possible applications. And so, I can imagine admiring any economist who dressed and acted the part of a proper witch doctor.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

Captain Kopeikin is actually Napoleon!

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three authors, dead or alive, do you invite?

I’d like to invite both drunk Stephen King and AA Stephen King, watch them fight. Someone like Philip K. Dick could referee.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Being embarrassed by things I have done is a full-time job. No time to be embarrassed by things I haven’t done.

Do you think any canonical books are widely misunderstood?

Probably all of them.

How do you organize your books?

A combination of quality, subject matter, color and size.

What book should everyone read before the age of 21?

Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy

What book should nobody read until the age of 40?

Maybe Anna Karenina. Which is why I assign it to college students at every opportunity.

Do you count any books as guilty pleasures, or comfort reads?

There is no true pleasure without overwhelming guilt. I’m with my Catholic friends on that one. And on the demonic-possession thing, too.

Disappointed, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. What a colossal yawner. It’s hard not to indulge in lost-time jokes here. Everyone should start this monster 1) because the beginning is actually pretty good, and 2) to have the pleasure of quitting it. I read about 80% of it (like, ten thousand pages) and then retired it for good. And I almost always finish stuff. Retiring it forever was deeply satisfying.

What do you plan to read next?

My email, sadly.

1 Comment

  1. Rollicking interview. Enlightening, as if I was born in a New London dive bar picking up Eugene”s scattered mental notes and aphorisms. Curious about your bass, perhaps an axe??

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