Anne Taylor Fleming Talks to Jennifer Homans
Historian, critic and former professional dancer JENNIFER HOMANS is the author of APOLLO’S ANGELS: A HISTORY OF BALLET, which was a 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Homans is The New Republic dance critic and a scholar-in-residence at New York University, where she teaches cultural history.
Are there wonderful books about dance (other than your own, of course) that you would recommend?
Elizabeth Kendall’s WHERE SHE DANCED: THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN ART-DANCE, which tells the story of American modern dance in the context of the early women’s movement and the politics of dance – and it is beautifully written.
What in the world is going on with the Bolshoi and is there a smart read about that ballet company?
Putin’s Russia is what’s going on. The best explanation is David Remnick’s piece in The New Yorker about the acid-throwing event, which is both detailed and investigative. He went to the Bolshoi Ballet Company in Moscow and asked lots of questions, and he tried to situate the events in the larger history of ballet in Russia and the USSR, and in the larger political culture of the country itself. Link: www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/03/18/130318fa_fact_remnick
Your late husband Tony Judt was a superb historian. Is there a book of his that is your favorite? Did he, in turn, have a favorite?
I think his best book is POSTWAR: A HISTORY OF EUROPE SINCE 1945, which tells the story of both East and West Europe – and it is a page-turner. He had many favorite books and authors – he talks about them some in THINKING THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, which was the last book he wrote before his death in 2010. I try to explain some of the book in a piece for The New York Review of Books entitled, “Tony Judt: A Final Victory.”
Was there a book in your childhood or adolescence that knocked you out and stayed with you?
ANNA KARENINA – it is so startlingly and seriously romantic, and the tragedy stayed with me for a long time. I reread it recently and was struck by the politics, which I hadn’t noticed as a younger woman carried away by the emotion.
Is there something recent that you have loved?
I am now reading Oscar Wilde’s THE DECAY OF LYING, AN OBSERVATION and THE CRITIC AS ARTIST. These were recommended to me by a friend and critic when we were talking about the role of criticism in our lives today.
Do you lean towards fiction or nonfiction? Is there a novel you particularly love and reread?
I lean towards nonfiction for work reasons, but I love novels. I return whenever I can to Jane Austen and can disappear into her writing for days on end. I also love memoirs – and the Russians – Vladimir Nabokov’s SPEAK, MEMORY, for example.
I know your sons were with you at the conference; is there a book or books they have loved and you would recommend to other parents?
Well, Daniel would probably send you to THE GREAT GATSBY; Nick: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD or the poetry of Keats.
Is there something that makes you laugh out loud?
Calvin and Hobbes, the daily comic strip that was written and illustrated by American cartoonist Bill Watterson, and syndicated from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995.
If you want a great historical adventure, be sure to read WADE DAVIS’ book INTO THE SILENCE about the British climbers who heroically attempted to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1924.
Check back at the beginning of each month for a new interview in which journalist Anne Taylor Fleming asks well known writers about their favorite books. And if you’ve missed an interview, you can find it here too.