Monday, April 29, 2013

The Book that Changed My Life

edited by Diane Osen
New York : Modern Library, 2002.

This collection of interviews with fifteen National Book Award winners and finalists highlights the award-winning books and investigates the books that influence these writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The interviews are with James Carroll, Don DeLillo, E.L. Doctorow, Charles Johnson, Diane Johnson, Philip Levine, Davis Levering Lewis, Barry Lopez, David McCullough, Alice McDermott, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Linda Pastan, Katherine Paterson, and Robert Stone, and are organized alphabetically by last name. All of them are followed by a list of the author's books through 2002 (when this book was published), and all but one include a list of works that influenced the author, some of which are usually mentioned in the interview.

I appreciated the variety of authors and their approach to writing represented in this collection. I started making a list of all the books mentioned at the end so I could see which titles are mentioned repeatedly, and I added a few of the authors to my ever-growing TBR list. My enjoyment of these interviews was slightly hampered by the fact that I've only read books by three of the authors highlighted (Katherine Paterson, David McCullough and E.L. Doctorow) and had only read the award-winning book for one (The Great Gilly Hopkins). Some of the questions deal with the winning or finalist book, and little care is taken to prevent spoilers, making this a difficult way to discover a new-to-you author. Diane Osen has clearly done her homework by reading the entire oeuvre of the interviewed author as well as the books that influenced them; this comes through in the interviews positively in that she's able to ask very interesting, probing questions, but on the flip side it's more challenging for the reader who doesn't have that same background to follow along with the answers. A mixed bag, but I'm glad I read it.

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