Middle East
Fortune struck for these Syrian migrants, but can they make it in California?

Bernard Malamud

Five summers, memorable for the reading

1974: Unhappy at summer camp, I holed up in my bunk and read Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" and Bernard Malamud's "The Natural." The camp might have been awful, but the books were anything but.

1980: In June, I attended a writers conference at UC Berkeley and met Grace Paley. In July, I read Joan Didion's "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." Both changed the way I think about stories and narrative. You can't get any better than that.

1982: In Cambridge, Mass., I read Albert Camus, Henry Miller, Walker Percy, Russell Hoban's "Riddley Walker" and "The Thief's Journal" by Jean Genet. "This book does not aim to be a work of...