Miriam Toews Gets Nervous When People Assume She’s Read the Classics

“I literally start to sweat,” says the novelist Miriam Toews, whose latest book is “Fight Night.” “I’ll rush home to have another go at ‘The Golden Bowl,’ or whatever.”

What books are on your night stand?

A biography of Fernando Pessoa, by Richard Zenith. It’s a huge, heavy book. Which only leaves room on my night stand for one other slim book and it’s called “Little Snow Landscape,” by the great Robert Walser.

What’s the last great book you read?

“Real Estate,” by Deborah Levy.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

This question makes me nervous. Sometimes in interviews people will reference a certain classic assuming I’ve read it, and I literally start to sweat. I’ll rush home to have another go at “The Golden Bowl,” or whatever.

Can a great book be badly written? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?

It’s pretty tough to compensate for bad prose.

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