Saturday, November 18, 2006

What is Stephen Fry reading?

The English actor and writer Stephen Fry recently talked to the Christian Science Monitor about what he was listening to and viewing for entertainment. And reading:
I usually have two books on the go. I try to read a novel and either a work of either history or biography or nonfiction at the same time as having poetry available on tap.

A book I try and read as often as I can is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, the great Russian writer. It's a watershed book, in many ways, in Russian history. It was one of the first real breaths of fresh air, like A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by [Alexander] Solzhenitsyn and other such books in the '50s. Formally, it is a revolutionary book as well as being revolutionary within Russian terms, i.e. antirevolution and anticommunist and an incredible critique of Soviet Russia and the life in it. It's also, in literary terms, amazingly revolutionary because, in some ways, it's the forerunner of what's now called magic realism.

It's many people's favorite book, actually. Sometimes major minor books are more enthralling than minor major books. It's very funny. It's incredibly surprising. It's dramatic and daring and also, at the center of it, is a fantastic love story. I'd recommend it to anybody.

The other book is called The Iron Kingdom [by Christopher Clark]. It's a history of Prussia from 1600 to the end of the Weimar Republic. It sounds rather dry, but I've always been fascinated by history of Germany in particular. I don't know why - I suppose being Jewish. I love Berlin. I love German culture.... What is it about Germany that can produce the Wagners and the Beethovens and Immanuel Kant and Mendelssohn - the philosopher Mendelssohn, as well as the composer - as well as this terrible dark side? And Prussia is really the embodiment of all this.

I've been rereading John Betjeman, the English poet, as it's his centenary. He has a very special place in the heart, which is very rare among poets. There are poets that we all admire. When Auden died or Yeats or Eliot, [they received] huge respect [and] above-the-fold obituaries, and so on. But with Betjeman, he had the common touch to some extent. I'm not suggesting that if you go into an industrial town and throw a brick, it will naturally hit the head of someone who had read much Betjeman. But for a poet, which is a pretty limited profession these days, he was very well known and stitched into the fabric of the [British] nation in a way that's quite rare.

I'll read anything by Julian Barnes and Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, because they write incredibly well.
Click here to read about what Fry is watching and listening to.

Stephen Fry has starred in TV series such as "Jeeves and Wooster" and "Blackadder" as well as films such as "V: For Vendetta." His new book, The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet Within is a guide to the form and history of poetry.

--Marshal Zeringue