Reading Picks from a Man Who Lives Among Words

John Puchniak loves books so much they prompted his temporary eviction from his home in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. His landlord worried that the thousands of volumes Puchniak owns were a fire hazard. He shares his current reading list.

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

We found an ideal gentleman for this week's chat with a summer reader. John Puchniak of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, has a library so large he was evicted from his apartment. Puchniak, who estimates he has three to 5,000 books, was allowed to return home this past week.

John Puchniak joins us now. Welcome.

Mr. JOHN PUCHNIAK (Resident, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania): Yes, hello.

ROBERTS: Mr. Puchniak, why were you evicted from your apartment?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: The building inspector decided that my books she considered a fire hazard and an immediate danger to all the other tenants.

ROBERTS: So which of those many thousands of books are you reading now?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: I am almost finished with the biologist Richard Dawkins' "The Ancestor's Tale."

ROBERTS: I've never heard of that.

Mr. PUCHNIAK: It's modeled on Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," wherein we begin at the present day and meet our biological ancestors one stage at a time until the beginning of life on this earth.

ROBERTS: And what do you want to read when you're finished with that one?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: Seeing how I've never read any of the "Harry Potter" books, I intend to read the very latest and the last one.

ROBERTS: So you're going to start the series with the last one?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: Yes.

ROBERTS: Why not start at the beginning?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: I never got into the story of "Harry Potter" but I couldn't resist wanting to discover how all the loose ends of the story are bound together in the last volume. I'll do that first and then I'll work my way backwards.

ROBERTS: And if you had all the time in the world, what would you read?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: Yes. "The Tale of Genji," "Genji Monogatari" by Murasaki Shikibu. This was the world's first psychological novel. This covers the years 950 to 1050 A.D. in Japanese aristocratic court life. I would also like to read all of Proust, "Remembrance of Things Past," Moncrieff's translation.

ROBERTS: I understand you speak several languages. Does which translation you read really matter to you? Do you prefer to read things in the original?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: I don't do either Japanese or French. But I do read novels in Hebrew and Spanish and in Polish.

ROBERTS: And is there something about that particular translation of the Proust that recommends itself to you?

Mr. PUCHNIAK: There is actually a brand-new translation of Proust but the Moncrieff translation is the all-time classic one. That's why I want to get involved in that one.

ROBERTS: Our summer reader, John Puchniak, back home among his thousands of books after being evicted for having too large a library. He joined us from a bar down the street from his apartment in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Thank you so much.

Mr. PUCHNIAK: You're very welcome.

ROBERTS: This is NPR News.

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