In the February issue of Vanity Fair, my pal George gives his answers to the famous Proust Questionnaire. Would you be surprised to learn his most treasured possession is a pen and a piece of paper? That his hero of fiction is Atticus Finch? That the thing he’d most like to change about himself would be to read more books?
Not a snarky answer in the bunch. My George is all grown up. And I admit he got me in the gut with his answer to “what would you change about your family?” when he said: I’d make them young again.
He also surprised me. His favorite writers are Mark Twain (I’d never have guess that one) and Paddy Chayefsky (who I had to Google). Turns out Paddy is a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist; and the only person to have earned 3 solo Academy Awards for Best Screenplay. Paddy is a much respected and renowned American dramatist.
Paddy Chayefsky. I love making these kinds of discoveries.
Now, of course, I can’t resist asking you a few questions. Who knows what I might learn. And I’ll play if you will.
Favorite Writers and why (I’m limiting myself to 4, because you know this list could be looooooong):
William Styron — what style, not a wasted word in the place, with long flowing complex sentences I could read over and over again.
Joan Didion — particularly for her nonfiction, a structural genius who writes what she wants and doesn’t worry about what she’s not supposed to do.
Mary Karr — raw poetry in prose, most recognizable nonfiction voice in town.
Larry McMurtry — brilliant epic storyteller, creator of unusual and conflicted characters who drive seamless plots.
Best last paragraph of a book:
Jane Smiley’s A THOUSAND ACRES
“And when I remember that world, I remember my dead young self, who left me something, too, which is her canning jar of poisoned sausage and the ability it confers, of remembering what you can’t imagine. I can’t say that I forgive my father, but now I can imagine what he chose never to remember — the goad of an unthinkable urge, pricking him, pressing him, wrapping him in an impenetrable fog of self that must have seemed, when he wandered around the house at night after working and drinking, like the very darkness. This is the gleaming obsidian shard I safeguard above all the others.”
Favorite Writer You’ve Seen Speak in Person:
Dorothy Allison. Couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She read a little, but spent most of her time on stage just talking like a real person, seemingly off-the-cuff, not a note in sight, about her writing and reading life. Her remarks were like listening to a great poet put their everyday life into a regular conversation. About a year later, I saw her perform her famous (which I didn’t know at the time) monologue, Frog Fucking, at AWP in front of hundreds of people. It was shocking and hilarious and devastating, and the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.
Your turn ….
I’m about to clock in at work, so I’ll have to answer the questions later, but I wanted to brag that I met Nick Clooney. George’s father, when I was five or six—my grandma’s ladies’ club was part of the audience for the Nick Clooney Show and she brought me. We took a tour of the studio and Nick had his son with him.
While I don’t remember much—I remember the lunch in a Real Restaurant and hating that my tights kept rolling down and that Mr. Clooney was really nice and said he liked my glasses—but I was told by my grandmother later that I technically met George, or at least was in the same room with him, before he was famous.
Okay, now you’re ranked right up there Erika for being on Romper Room!
Oh, Teri, you are too kind–I will step down, truly. I’ve been trumped. Or rather, Clooneyed.
I wonder what little George was like. His father is pretty incredible.
I wonder if I saw you in the audience. We used to watch Nick Clooney with my mom.
i love larry mcmurty too! (texasville? are you kidding me? everything about that story line makes me fall in love down to duane’s wife’s slogan-filled t-shirts–or was that just in the movie?)
i listened to mark maron’s podcast with jon hamm and fell even more in love when he said he was an english major in college.
(of course, with these proust questionnaires, i’m always cynical that it’s some PR person, an young 20-something female, sitting in her office coming up with answers for these big stars to make us fall even more in love with them. of course, not this one, not george’s!)
i loved elizabeth gilbert and sue monk kidd in person. and david sedaris.
And LONESOME DOVE. I last read it about 15 years ago, and I still remember exactly where I was when I finished it. In a Univ. of Minnesota classroom. I’d gotten to school early, the dead of freezing winter, and was at my desk. Hadn’t even taken off my coat when I read the last page and looked up to the surprise that class had started. Kinda forgot where I was. A story that, after 800+ pages, I was so sad to see end….
John Hamm — and he was a teacher too. From my home state of Missouri. 🙂
I could go see David Sedaris once a month and never get enough. He’s such an awesome reader of his work.
Oh, and I’m pulling TEXASVILLE off the shelf this instant to admire it.
OK. As Teri’s “significant other”, I can’t resist.
Favorite writers for body of work: Cormac McCarthy, Pete Dexter, John D. MacDonald, Jim Harrison, Stegner and Seinbeck. For the one great book I loved, McMurtry for “Lonesome Dove” and Capote for “In Cold Blood”. It is so hard to leave out William Manchester, John Irving and others.
Best paragraph. There are so many. It is much about context, but here goes. Almost any page from Mary Karr’s” Liar’s Club” and from Rick Bragg’s “All Over But the Shoutin'”, but have to give this honor to the last main paragraph of McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”. Too long to copy here but it ends with, “His feet are light and nimble. He never sleeps. He says that he will never die. He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.” Ten years later and it still gives me the chills.
BLOOD MERIDIAN might be the most difficult book I’ve ever read, and the most devastating. Not for the faint of heart. Or is that “feint”??
As for Pete Dexter, I’ve only read PARIS TROUT. What should I try next?
Hi Rex! I wanted to give a shout out to you and to second Jim Harrison for my husband. He loves his poetry.
There was a great episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he hung out with Jim Harrison. Such a neat man.
I feel so inadequate here, having not read most of these authors but here goes, anyway. My favorites, in no particular order:
Fyodor Dostoevsky. Although I only read CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, the story emblazoned itself onto my heart. No book will ever come close.
Ursula Hegi. Again, based only on one book (STONES FROM THE RIVER) but it left me changed, long after I finished it.
Frank McCourt. It’s probably not true but I like to think that I read ANGELA’S ASHES in one sitting. I could do little else while reading it. I still haven’t seen the movie and probably never will. I once knew his first wife and told Mr. McCourt that she was very worried that he would write about her. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Oh, I’ll write about her alright. She’ll be in the chapter called Misery!”
And, finally, our very own Averil Dean. She swoops me up, twirls me around, and leaves me breathless. I will read her for as long as she continues to write.
You knew Frank McCourt’s first wife, and therefore had a conversation, the real kind, with Frank. Well, MSB, I’m bowing to you this very instant. Love this snippet from your conversation, and of course ANGELA’S ASHES will remain one of my all-time favorites. To say I loved that book is simply not enough. I also listened to it on audio — Frank reads it himself — and it’s one of the best to listen to. What a storyteller he was.
I’ve also never seen the movie, and don’t plan to. I want to keep the images he created in my mind’s eye….
Goodness. Thank you, MSB. (There must be some mistake.)
Oh boy…let’s see…I love Louise Erdrich for her ability to reach down into very raw places and still speak so beautifully of them. I love Alice Hoffman for her ability to draw out magic and whimsy in something mundane. I love Elizabeth Berg because she gets it (even though her latest left me a bit cold at parts). Oh, yes, Larry McMurtry. Annie Proulx because I don’t know how she does it–the way she crafts her characters and their hearts just blows me away. I feel that even more about Truman Capote. The way he could chill (In Cold Blood) and then break your heart wide open (A Christmas Memory). Incredible.
Oh Louise Erdrich! I still remember when I first read LOVE MEDICINE. I recently read an article (a few articles, actually) about her tumultuous marriage, etc… I’m amazed she was able to write what she did in the midst of it.
I know–and the suicide of her husband amidst such heartbreaking allegations…like Lyra’s post today about the woman who channeled that which challenged her, so I have to wonder if Louise did the same? I can’t imagine the sorrow…and I like to imagine her having some peace at her bookstore these days.
I only read about it last year, long after I’d started reading her work. I also like to imagine her at her store, in a space of light and peace, surrounded by her children and books.
Here’s the link if anyone else hasn’t heard of it: http://birchbarkbooks.com/
And ironically I just saw Michael Dorris interviewed when I was watching a documentary recently (I want to say Ken Burns’ The West?) and felt so sad for them all. Like you, I was a reader of her work before knowing of the turmoil she’d faced, My mom had bought me The Painted Drum and she is a huge fan of The Master Butchers Singing Club (which I have yet to read), Then I wasn’t aware of her pain.
And Truman Capote. Dear lord. When I think of dead writers I’d like to have over for dinner, he’s at the top of my list.
Oh, to be at that table…
What fun. I love Alice Munro for her inside/outside look at the world. The close-up and the wide angle, if you get me. And Rosamund Pilcher for her descriptions of places I’ve never been but long to see. Julian Barnes has recently leapt into my top four, since The Sense of an Ending and The Lemon Table. But my favorite for voice alone is Nabokov because he’s so playful with language and because his sense of rhythm is so finely attuned.
You are my favorite writer I’ve ever heard speak, Teri. You’re the only one I’ve ever met!
(Rosamunde! Misspelling the name of a hero is so awful.)
Nabokov is a clear winner. All the way around. Who can be better at language play? And Alice Munro is such a treasure.
And HA on the writer-speaking-part. Your daughter might call us the writers who would not shut up. Those few hours went by screamingly fast….
Oh Nabokov – like having been made a cocktail of words, the one where the bartender refuses to tell you what his choice of ingredients were, and you watched him make it but his hands move too fast to see.
I met MJ Hyland, and she was lovely and very clever. We had tea, but I haven’t heard her read her stuff yet, hopefully at some point.
What a perfect analogy. He’s a magician with words, nobody like Nabakov. I need to reread LOLITA.
Helen’s description is right on.
And Teri, my daughter said later, “Well, that was . . . interesting. Who ARE all those people you were talking about? I didn’t know you knew anyone.”
Kids. Bless them. They don’t think we have real lives. And there’s a sweetness to that really, isn’t there?
I need to get off the internet and read more books.
I need to move somewhere more cosmopolitan so I can go hear authors read their work.
My favorite author is Neil Gaiman. I love his imagination and dark humor.
But now that I think about it, the writer who had the most influence on me was Beverly Cleary. Without her I wouldn’t have developed a love of reading in the first place.
Neil Gaiman — yes! See who all I’m forgetting!! Thank you. And, um, you’re preaching to the old choir about getting off-line. The more I’m on line, the more TV I watch, the less books, the less writing. The less real THINKING, if I’m telling the whole truth here.
I don’t know that I’d have survived my childhood without Laura Ingalls Wilder or Nancy Drew mysteries, etc… I was never interested in fantastical stories —- like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, or anything magical. I wanted stories about families I could imagine as real, where I could insert myself into their story feel like Pa was my Pa, or Nancy Drew’s lawyer father was my dad. I went for realism even then.
Next week, Lisa, let’s you and me vow less TV, less politics, less plugged in. Not zero, just less. Let’s plug out and see what happens.
It’s a deal. Even if I can’t make the writing engine fire, I’ve got stacks of books to read.
I’m giving you a pinkie-swear. Monday …
I have read every book Isabel Allende has written. I love her. T Capote, E Berg, D Sedaris,
Anne Tyler, I have read all their books. I don’t think I could narrow it down to one person. I have really thought this over, wait, I forgot I’ve read all of Styron, Tolstoy, R Massie. J C Oates. I just can’t pick one. But War and Peace is my favorite book.
Oma, your reading prowess never fails to amaze me. All of Joyce Carol Oates? The idea that anyone can read enough to keep up with her prolific writing — wow!
I’ve never read Tolstoy, though I’ve tried. I try and get distracted with other books. I think I’ll need some big chunks of time for him.
I have been thinking and thinking on this and I still can’t come up with my very, very favorites. There are just too many. So, I’ll list four that spring to mind, in no particular order.
George Eliot- Her worlds amaze me. Everything seems so distant and then somehow she weaves you into the world until you care so much about all of them, whether you love them or hate them, you feel there inability to do what they want, what they need.
John Kennedy O’Toole- Confederacy of Dunces is by far the funniest book I’ve ever read, and the only book that I have read repeatedly when I need to laugh. Best character in a book ever.
F. Scott Fitzgerald- His meticulous use of language, so spare, every word works very hard in every sentence yet if you read it, it all seems so simple. Possibly the hardest working writer of his time. Draft after draft after draft to get it to what we read today. No muse for him, all hard work.
Toni Morrison-Lyrical yet so succinct and above all raw. You don’t read her, you feel her words. And they sting.
And for light- Richard Russo, preferably the old stuff. Nobody’s Fool, The Straight Man. The towns that he writers about are depressed and falling apart. Similar to his characters. Yet there is great humor and great love among people who aren’t pretty and who are imperfect. I love his writing of the imperfect character.
I could go on and on…
Would you believe I just bought CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES last week?
What a fabulous list this is….
Carol Shields is still my fave after all these years. I was so sad when she died. I just re-read Unless and I was undone.
Oh, yes, Bobbi! I’m reading LARRY’S PARTY right now. What a smart whip she is.
I can’t begin to list my favorite authors. I had to do so for the writer’s fellowship I received last year, and I admit I simply had to draw straws.
Thanks to attending too many writers conferences and working at a university, I’ve heard dozens of fabulous writers in person. But I hit the trifecta when I saw John Irving, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling together a few years ago in New York. Whether you like to read them or not, they’re three of the most successful writers around–and hearing them speak and answer questions from the audience (especially with my teenage son there with me) was nothing short of amazing.
As far as George Clooney, well there was that weekend we spent together in Italy… (Oh, wait, I’m not a fantasy writer, am I?)
Wow, Sherry. You hit the trifecta!!! What a treat.