What was the worst book you had to read when you were young?
One of the best things I read last year was Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. It was written over a century ago but I could not put it down, a fact which I found stunning not because of its vintage but because I had to read the same author’s Ethan Frome in high school and oh my fucking God I could not wait until its horribly tedious characters sledded themselves into that tree, sorry if I spoiled anything for you there. Many years have passed since those days, and — as well as feeling no small bit of nostalgia for a period when reading literature was sort of my job, I wish someone told me at the time how I would one day long to be tasked with something as simple and pure as reading book after book — I am willing to accept that perhaps I misjudged a novel regarded by many as a classic, even though to the me of back then it seemed almost suicide-inducing due to its relentless generation of boredom. Maybe it was great. Not that I am going back to check or anything; The Custom of the Country was terrific but I’ll be dangled by my feet from a rope and fucked sideways before ever cracking a page of Ethan Frome again. The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt has a different opinion about the book, however, and he shares it on the band’s new record, which I continue to enjoy a great deal. Perhaps you will as well: This track has one of its prettier melodies, so it’s a good place to start. Give it a listen, even if you — quite understandably — hated Ethan Frome.