6 of Arthur Phillips' favorite books
So much for "writing what you know" — novelist Arthur Phillips, author of Prague and The Song Is You, recommends six works set in places that their authors never visited
Amerika by Franz Kafka (Knopf, $14). Kafka asked that this unfinished novel be burned, but it’s good his wishes were ignored. Otherwise, we’d have missed out on the Statue of Liberty with the sword in her hand, not to mention the ominous “Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma.”
The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare (Penguin, $5). While Kafka’s character left for Amerika from Bohemia, Shakespeare sent his travelers from Sicily to Bohemia. They landed on that country’s wild coast (which I can’t seem to find on my map). There they enjoyed, among other adventures, history’s greatest stage direction: “Exit, pursued by bear.”
Dracula by Bram Stoker (Dover, $3.50). Theater impresario Stoker was very well traveled. He didn’t make it to Eastern Europe, however, so it became a suitable place to let his imagination wander. He did more damage to a country’s reputation than any artist until Borat sank Kazakhstan. Transylvania is beautifully depicted: the mountains, the woods, the succubae.
The Tetherballs of Bougainville by Mark Leyner (Vintage, $13). The Solomon Islands may be many things, but they’re not the home of a professional tetherball league from which players’ names (such as Tetsi-Lele Bona Sr.) are borrowed and rearranged by a 13-year-old boy to create noms de plume (such as Bret Easton Ellis) for novels (American Psycho, for example) that are actually written by the boy and his bonobo chimp.
W, or the Memory of Childhood by Georges Perec (David R. Godine, $17). Off the coast of Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of South America, lies the mythical island of W and the Olympic training center Perec imagines might be there. W is a place as horrific as Nazi Germany, which itself seems like something that should only have existed in someone’s darkest imagination.
The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips (Random House, $14). Australia in 1922 is brought to a strange sort of life by an author who has plainly never left the Northern Hemisphere.
Arthur Phillips’ latest novel, The Song Is You, has just been released in paperback. He is also the author of Prague, The Egyptologist, and Angelica.