Episode 15: John Wray

Books Mentioned on The Spine

  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Little Peter's Journey to the Moon by Gerdt von Bassewitz
  • Freddy the Pig series by Walter R. Brooks
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
  • The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard
  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  • The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemmingway
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • James Joyce by Richard Ellmann
  • Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller by Judith Thurman
  • Hemingway: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers
  • Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Memorable Quotes

  • "I've read a number of books in the last couple decades that had been assigned to me as a kid and that I avoided like the plague, only of course to discover that they are incredibly brilliant, glorious books that were deservedly taught to kids."
  • "You have to wonder how 'Heart of Darkness' become standard-issue in English classes nationwide. That is a truly perverse and disturbing and deeply enigmatic text."
  • "The few times in high school and then later in college when I really had an intense connection to a book, it was always a little traumatizing to have to go to class and listen to everyone else's blase commentary about something that was seared into my soul."
  •  "It became a lifelong project for [my mother] to master the English language... [S]he began a project that continues to this day of reading her way through the Penguin Classics, which of course is an impossible project because the Penguin Classics collection continues to grow quite rapidly."
  • "Our house was filled with stacks of those very familiar orange-backed Penguin Classics."
  • "In college, it suddenly became a cool thing to pass someone a book that was like an insider tip."
  • On Infinite Jest: "It's a good book to leave laying around in the coffee shop if you want to appear to have greater depths than might be apparent at first glance."
  • On The Transit of Venus: "It just completely turned my world upside down. I thought it was the most beautiful prose I'd ever come across. And I still think it's one of the best books written in America in the last 50 years."
  • "I would love to start a Shirley Hazzard renaissance."
  • "There's just a chapter in The Sun Also Rises in which a morning's outing spent flyfishing is described. ...As I think back on that chapter, was that what those two characters were doing...was the most extraordinary, magical, emotionally laden and beautiful activity that a human being could do in an afternoon."
  • "It's extremely reassuring to read about the frustrations and failures of people whom you know to have been brilliant."
  • "Sometimes I like to let random chance kick in and determine what I'm going to read next."
John Wray, author and guest of The Spine podcast