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Move over Gideon’s Bible: Rushdie picks books for fancy NY hotel.

April 20, 2011

Get a room! Salman Rushdie with a friend.

All due respect to Salman Rushdie, but a thousand monkeys flipping Dewey decimal cards could pick a better selection of books to stock in upscale hotel rooms. As I Lay Dying?!? What weary traveler or overstimulated tourist is up for that?

As a publicity stunt, though, it’s above reproach. Rushdie, the much-lauded Indian-British novelist, has selected 13 books for the luxury Standard Hotel. Guests will find one of the books on their nightstands “until they disappear,” says Laszlo Jakab Orsos, director of the World Voices International Festival.

Sponsored by PEN, the literary and human rights organization, the festival was founded by Rushdie. A number of the festival’s events take place at the Standard Hotel next week. Having one of the world’s most famous novelists pick books for guests is a win-win for the hotel and the festival, both basking in a nice little penumbra of feel-good publicity.

The traveler trying to make head or tail of Faulkner’s most difficult novel? Not so much.

Which is not to say the books compiled by Rushdie are entirely without a sense of fun. The Great Gatsby is, of course, one of the greatest short novels ever and does not require the dedication and concentration of a Ph.D. candidate to get through.

Saul Bellow is quite the wit, and his sprightly style is a joy, although he can go on and on, which is why I would have tapped Henderson the Rain King over Rushdie’s selection, Humboldt’s Gift. I heartily endorse the selections of Catch-22, by Joseph Heller and Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, a pair of mid-2oth century comic classics.

And Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint may have the side benefit of boosting Manhattan’s escort services industry.

All of Rushdie’s picks are American novels by American writers, which is a nice touch. Even more fascinating is how many of them are by Southern writers: Not only Faulkner (I would have substituted his Collected Stories), but also Eudora Welty, The Collected Stories; Flannery O’Connor, All That Rises Must Converge.

Jewish writers are well-represented, too: In addition to Bellow, Heller and Roth, there’s Bernard Malamud, The Complete Stories (I would have picked The Fixer); and Michael Chabon, who’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) is the most recently published book in the bunch.

The list needs some help, though: No Huck Finn? No Hemingway? How about a first-rate popular novel or two, say Gone with the Wind, or Double Indemnity? No books by immigrant writers like Oscar Hijuelos, Edwidge Danticat, or Jhumpa Lahiri?

Only Toni Morrison to represent African-American literature? How about James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston or Ernest J. Gaines?

Nobody ever asks me anything.

The complete list of books chosen by Sir Salman Rushdie:

Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass

William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

Eudora Welty: The Collected Stories

Bernard Malamud: The Complete Stories

Saul Bellow: Humboldt’s Gift

Philip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint

Flannery O’Connor: Everything That Rises Must Converge

Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five

Thomas Pynchon: V.

Joseph Heller: Catch-22

Toni Morrison: Beloved

Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2011 2:29 pm

    Some are not to bad. I do wish I had his job. His secretary seems very competent. I would of picked Player Piano as another and one Grissom book. The great Gatsby would be great in Vegas.

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    April 20, 2011 3:13 pm

    For some reason, I’m happy to see Leaves of Grass on the list.

  3. PJ Parrish permalink
    April 20, 2011 4:27 pm

    Tsk tsk. You’ll do anything to post a photo of a hot babe, you old dog you.

  4. Marla permalink
    April 21, 2011 11:50 am

    Excellent piece, as usual. Chauncey – I want to see your list!!!

  5. Connie permalink
    April 22, 2011 6:38 pm

    You know, I love Faulkner, but I don’t see myself picking up The Sound and the Fury while I’m lounging around my luxury hotel suite.

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