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The Paris Review Interviews

December 7, 2010

I am a woman obsessed.

Every morning when I sit down to write, I first have to read at least half a Paris Review interview, sometimes, okay, frequently, more frequently, the whole thing. And they’re long. We’re talking a half hour to an hour of time spent reading when I could be, should be, writing.  But a voice, a friendly but wheedling voice, argues: It gets me ready to write. I gain perspective. It makes me feel more creative. Less alone. Excited. It brings me pleasure. I have a thousand reasons.

And honestly, I think they’re all true.

My new habit started late October, early November, when I read announcements on a number of blogs–Paris Review, online archive, it’s all there folks! I made my way over and started with an interview from 2010, David Mitchell, because The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is one of my favorite books this year. Then from the 2000s: Andrea Barrett, A.S. Byatt, Peter Carey. Notice that’s only up to the Cs!

But I’m reading methodically by the alphabet. That would diminish the fun. Every time I open the site, I use appetite, whim, emotion, to guide me. Who do I feel like today? A writer I already know well, or someone I’ve only been told about? Do I want to go way back, or read something from the last year?

This morning, I found with glee that because a new issue had come out, I could read the whole Norman Rush interview online. I’d been wanting to read it since I found out that he had published his first novel in his fifties. But before today, each time I started, I was enticed by the first few paragraphs and then blocked by a statement at the bottom inviting me to buy the current issue if I wanted to continue reading.  Not this morning. This morning, I read what fit on my screen, scrolled down and saw the seemingly endless text, all this amazing information waiting for me. So I read, learning about the office where he writes, his time in Africa, how he conceives of characters. About a third of the way through, I opened up my university library’s home page, and checked to see which Rush titles they had. I ordered them, then kept reading until I had read it all.

Although not every interview gives me the same amount of joy, most of them afford something that feels important–about process or craft, some companionship, even a new way of articulating how to be comfortable as oneself in the world.

From Andrea Barrett I learn that she’s never met a writer who doesn’t feel ill at ease in the world. “We write about the world because it doesn’t make sense to us.” Also, she writes crazy, bad first drafts, and wishes she didn’t, but can’t help it.

From David Grossman, I learn about the luz, “a word from the Talmud. It’s the smallest bone in your backbone, which cannot be eradicated. All your essence is preserved in it, and from that you will be recreated in resurrection.” He asks people to think about what their luz is. I wonder, what is mine?

I learn from Gunter Grass that happiness in writing lasts for two to three seconds. It is the satisfaction of making a tiny, but significant change to a draft. And then one moves on to contemplating the next comma or period.

Part of the beauty of reading the interviews is that unlike in writing, the happiness they afford lasts for as long as one is willing to read. And when you stop for one day, you know, you can go back and finish, or choose a new interview to read, from all the others, next time. And again. Every day. All those writers, waiting to speak to you.

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