The Help Desk: She did it her way

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

Do you have a favorite question that you’ve been asked in your time on the Help Desk? Do you wish you could do a take-back on one of your answers?

Jen, Magnolia

Dear Jen,

I actually don't have a favorite question – each question asked is both a surprise and a delight, as are my responses! There are, however, two questions I generally avoid answering:

What's your favorite book?


Why are you flipping off the sun?

My taste in books is mercurial, perhaps because of all the mercury I ingest as a byproduct of my hobby handcrafting artisanal fluorescent light bulbs in preparation for the day the sun dies.

I will say today, my favorite book is Idaho by Emily Ruskovich but who knows, tomorrow maybe I'll discover Shakespeare or some shit.

As for regretting an answer, I don't usually dwell on my actions long enough to form regrets, but I actually do have one: It was my response to this question about whether "good" literary translations can exist. What I failed to note in my response is that many of the works we consider classics already are translations – the Iliad and Odyssey, the Inferno, Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, and Crime and Punishment are some of my favorites (depending on the day and how many light bulbs I've got in my system).