Open book with Lee Siegel

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Award-winning critic Lee Siegel is the author of five books and the recipient of the 2002 National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. He writes for The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal and has worked as senior editor of The New Republic, art critic for Slate, and contributing writer for the LA Times Book Review.

Siegel wlll join writer Kate Bolick to discuss his memoir, "The Draw," for The Mount's Touchstones series at 5 p.m. Thursday. (Tickets are $18 general, $15 Mount members. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit EdithWharton.org or call 413-551-5100.)

Siegel recently took a few moments out of his busy schedule — his newest book hit bookshelves in April — to discuss what books are piling up on his nightstand but declined to stir the literary pot and dish on who he thinks is overrated.

"Your newest book "The Draw: A Memoir," has been called "Brilliant," in the New York Times Book Review, and a "stunning self-portrait," in New York Magazine, what memoirs do you consider brilliant?

I like "The Tender Bar" (by J.R. Moehringer) very much, also "Barefoot to Avalon"(by David Payne), "Hunger of Memory" (Richard Rodriguez) and, more recently, "In the Darkroom" (Susan Faludi). All these authors created books that are original experiences when you read them. And the emotions they portray are all either bound up with ideas, or they have the intense clarity of an idea. So I guess that would make them "brilliant."

What books are currently on your nightstand?

Hugh Thomas's book on the Civil War ("The Spanish Civil War"), Evelyn Underhill's "Mysticism," Leszek Kolakowski's "Main Currents of Marxism."

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What was your favorite book as a child?

"Homer's Odyssey." It contains everything as it tells a story about a man who is constantly being tested and reborn and reminded always of his human frailty, and who exists, simultaneously, as reluctant adventurer, husband, father and flawed mortal being.

What book/author is overrated, in your opinion?

I'll have to keep it historical to stay out of trouble. Author: Kafka. Book: "Finnegan's Wake."

What book should everyone read once in their lifetime?

"Homer's Odyssey."

What's your favorite work by Edith Wharton?"

"The Custom of the Country." I love books about people coming from one place and trying to get to another: Dreiser's Sister Carrie is one of my favorite novels. Undine is shallow, grasping and amoral. I find that refreshing! She is like a flashlight in an underground cavern, and her amorality exposes the social structure around her.


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