Monday, November 2, 2009

Author Interviews - the Paris Review anthology

The Paris Review Interviews, Vol. 1

Full disclosure: I didn't want to read this book. I'd requested it from the library on a whim after hearing Philip Gourevitch on Nancy Pearl's "Book Lust" podcast talking about his work selecting the "best of" author interviews from The Paris Review for this collection series. The book came in along with a bunch of other interlibrary loans, and as the due date approached, I picked it up. I hadn't read many of the featured authors, and those that I had were not really to my taste. So I started reading it with the plan that after the requisite 50 pages, I would be able to return it to the library and thus whittle down my stack.

Then I read the first interview, featuring Dorothy Parker. She was a hoot! I've never read any of her stories, but after so enjoying her sense of humor, I was ready to check out her complete short story collection from my library. Still not entirely convinced to keep reading, I approached the next interviews with some trepidation: Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway. Both men had such intriguing things to say about their writing. Alright, so I probably won't read any Hemingway besides The Old Man and the Sea which I read for school, but it was awfully encouraging to see him poking a little bit of fun at the folks who saw a symbol in everything. Now in the full thrall of these interviews, I started taking my time, reading two or three interviews a day, spacing it out so I didn't get my authors confused or crowd out a particularly satisfying one with the next.

Two in particular stand out to me: those featuring Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Gottlieb. Vonnegut's impressed me because it helped me to understand his writing a bit more. I read Slaughterhouse-Five last year, and didn't really like it. I could appreciate what he was doing, but had trouble following and making sense of the narrative, and I had the sneaking suspicion that the author was dangling the story in front of me with the taunt "I know something you don't know." As he talked about his experience in World War 2 during this interview, especially the bombing of Dresden, I started to realize that much of this was what he knew from the war and began to wonder if part of the challenge with the form of the story was that he didn't really know how to make sense of it either. Though it didn't change my personal opinion of the book, it gave me a bit more insight into what went into it. The second stand out was the discussion with Robert Gottlieb. Rather than a traditional interview, it was more like the transcript of a documentary in which not only he himself but several of the writers whom he had edited talked about working with him in the editing process. This method gave me a very fleshed out, holistic impression of him as an editor and reader, and I really enjoyed the fresh approach.

So from reluctantly picking it up with the plan of abandoning it, I've transformed in the reading to not wanting to return it to the library. My wishlist has grown by three books, because I'm certain I'll want to read the other compilations in this series as well.

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