Do I care what my favourite authors read? Which other writers they’re jealous of? What they read growing up and how they first realized they were storytellers? What first editions they own? Which other authors they hang out with?
Hell yeah I do!
In The Writer’s Library, Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager criss-cross America to interview authors about the books that informed their craft. Beyond the voyeuristic thrill of peering into each author’s study and learning their reading habits, there are wider insights into reading and writing.
To the book’s credit, the twenty-three authors are a diverse bunch of American men and women, straight and gay, Indigenous and migrant, North and South, both coasts and much in-between. Likewise, the discussion covers novels, poetry, short stories, even plays. You also couldn’t hope for better interviewers since between them Pearl and Schwager seem to have read each and every one of the 400 or so titles mentioned.
I planned to read interviews individually, as palate cleansers between novels, but instead inhaled the collection in a single sitting.
Some highlights? Amor Towles giving a lecture on the way all the components of a story interact “creates an infinite number of harmonic combinations in the service of meaning”. Luis Alberto Urrea getting life lessons from Ursula LeGuin (“Luisito, it’s time for you to read feminists”). Richard Ford saying he reads every single novel sent to him, including from strangers (“Often I don’t finish them, because why should there be a lot of really good novels in the world? There aren’t.”). Siri Hustvedt’s on how books literally become us, embedding in our nervous systems as memories (“It is what you read that matters and that you read not to shore up your own smug beliefs but to press yourself beyond them.”)
“It’s hard to occupy a place in the real world you haven’t imagined”, Hustvedt argues, that’s how reading expands our consciousness. One thing reading The Writer’s Library will expand is your future reading list. Once you get past Fitzgerald, Wharton, Dickens, it does direct the curious reader’s gaze in some tantalising new directions.
Whose reading habits are you most curious about?
The Writer's Library is published by HarperCollins