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Big Books Issue

Diane Scharper

Towson University literature professor, book critic

Photo: Frank Klein, License: N/A

Frank Klein

City Paper: What are you reading right now?

Diane Scharper: I just finished reading The Art of Dying and Living by Kerry Walters. It’s actually one of the books for a round-up review for the National Catholic Reporter. It’s basically a book about how to live so that you can die. It’s not a particularly religious book. It just talks about how our culture today doesn’t even seem to acknowledge death and yet we’re all gonna die and we’re gonna be terrified when we do. And I didn’t know this before—which is one of the neat things about reading and reviewing—but from about the 15th to the 17th century, there were numerous books about the art of dying. That was like the big genre.

CP: Do you remember a book that really struck you as a young adult, the first book that really hit you?

DS: Yes. [J.D.] Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. I loved the language, the colloquial language, the whole thing about being honest. I loved that. That whole thing about hating phonies. Everything Salinger. Franny and Zooey, where they talked about the kingdom of God is within you and nobody even thinks to look for it there.

CP: What about a poet that struck you early on?

DS: That was e.e. cummings. And I obviously started copying him—probably the way everyone in my generation did—and copied his style until my teacher said you can’t write warmed-over e.e.cummings. You have to write Diane Scharper.

CP: Do you remember what your favorite children’s book was?

DS: I didn’t read this as a child but it was The Chronicles of Narnia, which I read to [my daughter and Baltimore Sun reporter] Julie [Scharper]. Every night we’d read a part of one. Later on we watched the videos. That’s definitely my favorite one.

CP: Are there any books right now that you’re looking forward to reading or wish you had time to read?

DS: Between Heaven and Mirth, by James Martin. The idea of it is that people kind of go around really seriously approaching religion and not seeing that there’s a whole lightness to it also.

CP: Are there books that you reread?

DS: I’ll go in and reread certain poems from certain poets. Like A.R. Ammons who wrote this poem, “Corsons Inlet,” which I absolutely love.

CP: Is there a book you feel you should read that you just never have?

DS: Oh, wow. Yes, yes, yes. Proust, Remembrance of Things Past. I was supposed to read that in graduate school and I think I got halfway and I just couldn’t finish it. And one day I will.

CP: Is there a genre of book that is your guilty pleasure?

DS: Yes. Horror. Stephen King. I loved The Shining.

CP: When do you read?

DS: Pretty much all the time. In bed, in the morning, in my free time, while I’m eating.

Later, by e-mail:

DS: I . . . neglected to mention two of my all-time favorite books. . . .American Rust, a debut novel by Philipp Meyer, is number one on my list of favorites. Meyer (who at one time lived in Hampden) writes in a Faulkneresque style as he gets inside the heads of two lower class boys from a Pennsylvania mining town who struggle with the meaning of life. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is also high on my list of favorites. Skloot brings the mysteries of medical research alive through her strong writing. She uses every technique of creative nonfiction as she seamlessly weaves together three stories—all connected to the Johns Hopkins Hospital. I reviewed both books for The Baltimore Sun when it had a local-books column—which I’d love to see again.

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