The Importance of Lists, Interviewing Writers, & A Self-Interview

Audrey Hepburn reading.

Audrey Hepburn reading.

We bloggers read what we want to read.

We know we’re supposed to want to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, the favorite of so many writers and critics on  “Best of 2013” lists.

But I read classics and 19th- and 20th-century novels.  I am usually ten to 2,000 years behind the times.

If one is patient and willing to sift through some dreadful junk, one finds very good contemporary writing being published.  By browsing at bookstores and reading reviews, I discovered several (well, six!) brilliant new books this year.

Presumably book blogs help readers discover books:  some days the stats here are exclusively about reading Doris Lessing; and other days people only want to read about my trip to Washington, D.C.

But what about interviews?

When I was sorting through my papers last summer and throwing a lot of things out, I discovered a quite good interview I did with James Dickey some years ago.

And a very literary online friend used to have a very good blog at which he interviewed writers.

And so I decided to experiment with short-short interviews with writers at my blog, because I was starting to intuit that the writers I like were what used to be called “writers’ writers,” meaning not as widely read as the other writers, i.e.,  Janet Evanovich.

My five-question format falls cryptically between chat and interview and looks as though it belongs in a rock and roll magazine for people with short attention spans.  (And I LIKE rock publications!)

This year four of my six favorite writers (see sidebar) of 2013 generously agreed to be interviewed by email:  Peter Stothard, author of Alexandria:  The Last Nights of Cleopatra, Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances, Karen E. Bender, author of A Town of Empty Rooms, and D. J. Taylor, author of The Windsor Faction.

Oddly, none of these four remarkable writers has made the New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books of the Year list.  Their books have been well reviewed, and they may very well be on other “Best of” lists.

I know the importance of lists.  I know people who only read books on these lists.

I am often impatient with these lists.

But what can we do?

There are two other writers on my “Best of 2013 So Far” list:  Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings, made the NYTBR 100 Notable Books list and several other lists; and Susan Choi’s My Education was widely reviewed, though it has not, as far as I know, appeared on the “Best of 2013”  lists.

I have emailed their PR people and will try to schedule interviews, though I’ve waited rather late in the year, because I temporarily forgot about interviewing my “best of”s.

Meanwhile, here is a fascinating interview with KAT of  MIRABILE DICTU by KAT of  MIRABILE DICTU Yes, it’s a self-interview.  I have decided to answer every question you’ve ever wanted to ask me.

MIRABILE DICTU:  When did you start reading and why?

Kat: I couldn’t stop.  It was the most wonderful thing I ever learned to do.  I borrowed the “Dick and Jane” book from school and read ahead.  I read every morning before school and after dinner.  I read Little Women, Half Magic, Harriet the Spy, and Elizabeth Goudge’s Linnets and Valerians. I loved the Scholastic Book Club at school.  We would order books, and then our teachers would distribute them, and it was so exciting:  The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom, Homer Price by Robert McCloskey,  Emil and the Detectives

MIRABILE DICTU:  Where do you like to read?

Kat:  Lounging, sprawling on the couch!

MIRABILE DICTU:  Where do you get your books?

Kat:  Mostly at bookstores.  I like to own my books.

MIRABILE DICTU:  What is your favorite book?

Kat:  Too many favorite books!  I could say Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City, a bildungsroman that follows the heroine Martha Quest from age 30 through old age, from postwar London to post-apocalypse. I could say Jonathan Lethem’s eerie and very funny masterpiece Chronic City, whose Perkus Tooth, a pop culture critic, I will never forget.  I could say Margaret Drabble’s The Realms of Gold, a brilliant novel about an archaeologist, her family, and England in the 1970s, which I have read nine or ten times. I could say Peter Stothard’s Alexandria:  The Last Days of Cleopatra, because he has a lyrical style and unique perspective on the classics and history and made me look (briefly getting it) at what he sees (and I don’t).  Or  Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

MIRABILE DICTU:   What are you reading now?

Kat:  Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City, a great neglected classic, the fifth of the Martha Quest series, but so unusual that it can stand alone.

Thanks, Kat!

You’re welcome, Kat!

2 thoughts on “The Importance of Lists, Interviewing Writers, & A Self-Interview

  1. 🙂 The Internet does encourage short attention spans, doesn’t it? But I like your short, bite-size interview format! Like you, I’m finding I read older books most of the time now – it’s harder and harder to weed out the good, modern writing, so thank you for highlighting it!


  2. I used to think so many books were good! I can only conclude that my standards are much higher now that I’ve read thousands. Different books for different times of life…

    I need to find a website that reviews only little-known books.


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