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Martin Amis, Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, Calvin Trillin, John Updike, and more

Best of Reading interviews 1995-96

Martin Amis - every male writer under 45 would secretly like to be him

Martin Amis

In 1993 when Amis left Antonia Phillips for the younger American heiress Isabel Fonseca, London headlines offered: “MARTIN AMIS WRITES OFF HIS MARRIAGE” and “BRAINY, DARK AND STUNNING: THE WOMAN MARTIN AMIS HAS FALLEN FOR.” Tabloids sent photographers to stake out girlfriend and wife, the latter characterized as “angry, devastated and utterly betrayed.”

When Amis flew to Manhattan for periodontal surgery, London newspapers interviewed dentists: “THE PEARLY KING OF LITERATURE. WHAT DID MARTIN AMIS HAVE DONE TO HIS TEETH?”June 1, 1995 | Read full interview

Richard Ford - The Sportswriter was his breakthrough book.

Richard Ford

"I like to set books on holidays because everybody who is a reader will have a very vivid human memory of some Fourth of July in his or her life. If I could get people to start picturing their own memories, pictures of the morning of the Fourth of July, for instance, then I would have a lot going for me before I even started. It’s the same reason that I set The Sportswriter on Easter.”

June 29, 1995 | Read full interview

Joyce Carol Oates read part of Zombie to the American Psychological Association

Joyce Carol Oates

Zombie, Ms. Oates’s newest novel, takes readers inside the mind of Quentin P., a sexual sadist and serial killer modeled on the late Jeffrey Dahmer. Ms. Oates shows us Quentin through his diary. Quentin writes about his past murders and plans for future killings. He abducts young men and attempts through crude surgery to create a zombie. “A true ZOMBIE,” Oates-as-Quentin writes, “would be mine forever. He would obey every command & whim.

Oct. 12, 1995 | Read full interview

Calvin Trillin: "Had my father read Fitzgerald, he might have decided I should go to Princeton."

Calvin Trillin

“I didn’t know anybody else’s father who hadn’t been to college who thought his son was going to Yale. I certainly grew up in an era and among people who had ambitions for their children. Everybody my parents knew had been poor at one point and from an immigrant background and almost all of them, I am sure, had feelings that their children should have opportunities. But that’s different than having a focused plan as my father did.”

June 13, 1996 | Read full article

John Updike inherited a sense of sorrow and a kind of hopelessness.

John Updike

“And then I wrote a review of a book by Barth, called Search and Faith of Understanding. It was about the medieval theologian Anselm who devised the ontological proof of God’s existence. I reviewed it, and of course it was highly unusual for the New Yorker to run theology reviews. But Mr. Shawn was a very permissive and intellectually curious person and when I said I would like to do this, he assented and they duly ran it.

Feb. 29, 1996 | Read full interview

Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt

H. Arendt-M. McCarthy correspondence

Arendt’s husband died in 1970. Arendt writes about her terror at being without him. Then W.H. Auden shows up drunk at Arendt’s Riverside Drive apartment and asks Arendt to marry him. Auden, of course, was homosexual." Arendt writes: “I am almost beside myself when I think of the whole matter.” McCarthy answers, “Stephen Spender was here and announced that he was feeling like a matchmaker, wouldn’t Wystan make a good husband for Hannah? I said coldly, ‘Are you mad?’..

March 16, 1995 | Read full interview

Czeslaw Milosz - had a conversation with John Paul II about his poetry

Robert Faggen re Milosz

In talking about American television, one would think that Milosz’scomplaints would be about television’s stupidity or insipidity. But what he said was, ‘The thing I don’t like most about television are nature programs.’ For Americans to hear that is startling. But Milosz made the point that the edifying tone of those programs does not necessarily alert, but rather lulls the viewer into not being reminded that Nature is a shop of horrors.”

June 15, 1995 | Read full interview

T.C.Boyle - quoted The Grapes of Wrath in the beginning of the book

T. Coraghessan Boyle

Mr. Boyle was at home in Santa Barbara. He declared himself “very, very glad I moved. I got so crazed with the population pressures of L.A., it was driving me nuts. I was living in Woodland Hills where it was 116 degrees in the summer. Here, I’m close to the ocean and it’s a much smaller town and it’s misty and my house is surrounded by trees that were planted back in 1909, so it’s all totally overgrown.”

Sept 7, 1995 | Read full interview

Quentin, Angelica, and Julian - not far from their aunt's house

Quentin Bell

Virginia Woolf, in her letters and diaries complains of the problems in acquiring proper clothes — the tiresomeness of shopping, of dressing for parties. Other memoirists of the period, writing of Virginia and Vanessa, describe the women’s dress as dowdy and unfashionable. I asked Mr. Bell, who has something of an interest in fashion, what he recalled about his aunt’s dress.

“She was baffled by the whole psychology of dress. In a way she wanted to be invisible, I think….”

March 21, 1996 | Read full interview

James Lee Burke: "used to write poetry, but by popular demand, I stopped”

James Lee Burke

As far as my writing is concerned, I was influenced most by John Dos Passos, Flannery O’Connor, Hemingway, certainly Faulkner. I guess to a degree Eudora Welty, Katherine Porter, Caroline Gordon, and certainly Robert Penn Warren, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Thomas Wolfe. There are so many great American writers; you can give dozens of names and still have dozens left.”

July 25, 1996 | Read full interview

Tobias Wolff: "My wife is always joking when she reads my rewritten things"

Tobias Wolff

When he teaches the short story in a course, he said, his concern was to break down students’ preconceived ideas. “I bring in different kinds of stories and show how many things a story can be. The older I get the more infinite the possibilities of the story form seem to me to be. There is the story according to Chekhov, according to Tolstoy, according to Calvino, to Barthelme, to Carver, and take it on from there.”

Nov. 7, 1996 | Read full interview

David Lehman: was Lionel Trilling’s graduate assistant at Columbia University

David Lehman

“A guest editor would be the variant, so the volumes would be different, one from another. John Ashbery will have a different view of what the best poetry is from Adrienne Rich, and both will differ from Louise Gluck. In this way people who are interested in Ashbery will be interested in that volume in particular. People interested in A.R. Ammons will be interested in that volume. So it chronicles the taste of our best poets.”

Nov. 14, 1996 | Read full interview

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Martin Amis - every male writer under 45 would secretly like to be him

Martin Amis

In 1993 when Amis left Antonia Phillips for the younger American heiress Isabel Fonseca, London headlines offered: “MARTIN AMIS WRITES OFF HIS MARRIAGE” and “BRAINY, DARK AND STUNNING: THE WOMAN MARTIN AMIS HAS FALLEN FOR.” Tabloids sent photographers to stake out girlfriend and wife, the latter characterized as “angry, devastated and utterly betrayed.”

When Amis flew to Manhattan for periodontal surgery, London newspapers interviewed dentists: “THE PEARLY KING OF LITERATURE. WHAT DID MARTIN AMIS HAVE DONE TO HIS TEETH?”June 1, 1995 | Read full interview

Richard Ford - The Sportswriter was his breakthrough book.

Richard Ford

"I like to set books on holidays because everybody who is a reader will have a very vivid human memory of some Fourth of July in his or her life. If I could get people to start picturing their own memories, pictures of the morning of the Fourth of July, for instance, then I would have a lot going for me before I even started. It’s the same reason that I set The Sportswriter on Easter.”

June 29, 1995 | Read full interview

Joyce Carol Oates read part of Zombie to the American Psychological Association

Joyce Carol Oates

Zombie, Ms. Oates’s newest novel, takes readers inside the mind of Quentin P., a sexual sadist and serial killer modeled on the late Jeffrey Dahmer. Ms. Oates shows us Quentin through his diary. Quentin writes about his past murders and plans for future killings. He abducts young men and attempts through crude surgery to create a zombie. “A true ZOMBIE,” Oates-as-Quentin writes, “would be mine forever. He would obey every command & whim.

Oct. 12, 1995 | Read full interview

Calvin Trillin: "Had my father read Fitzgerald, he might have decided I should go to Princeton."

Calvin Trillin

“I didn’t know anybody else’s father who hadn’t been to college who thought his son was going to Yale. I certainly grew up in an era and among people who had ambitions for their children. Everybody my parents knew had been poor at one point and from an immigrant background and almost all of them, I am sure, had feelings that their children should have opportunities. But that’s different than having a focused plan as my father did.”

June 13, 1996 | Read full article

John Updike inherited a sense of sorrow and a kind of hopelessness.

John Updike

“And then I wrote a review of a book by Barth, called Search and Faith of Understanding. It was about the medieval theologian Anselm who devised the ontological proof of God’s existence. I reviewed it, and of course it was highly unusual for the New Yorker to run theology reviews. But Mr. Shawn was a very permissive and intellectually curious person and when I said I would like to do this, he assented and they duly ran it.

Feb. 29, 1996 | Read full interview

Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt

H. Arendt-M. McCarthy correspondence

Arendt’s husband died in 1970. Arendt writes about her terror at being without him. Then W.H. Auden shows up drunk at Arendt’s Riverside Drive apartment and asks Arendt to marry him. Auden, of course, was homosexual." Arendt writes: “I am almost beside myself when I think of the whole matter.” McCarthy answers, “Stephen Spender was here and announced that he was feeling like a matchmaker, wouldn’t Wystan make a good husband for Hannah? I said coldly, ‘Are you mad?’..

March 16, 1995 | Read full interview

Czeslaw Milosz - had a conversation with John Paul II about his poetry

Robert Faggen re Milosz

In talking about American television, one would think that Milosz’scomplaints would be about television’s stupidity or insipidity. But what he said was, ‘The thing I don’t like most about television are nature programs.’ For Americans to hear that is startling. But Milosz made the point that the edifying tone of those programs does not necessarily alert, but rather lulls the viewer into not being reminded that Nature is a shop of horrors.”

June 15, 1995 | Read full interview

T.C.Boyle - quoted The Grapes of Wrath in the beginning of the book

T. Coraghessan Boyle

Mr. Boyle was at home in Santa Barbara. He declared himself “very, very glad I moved. I got so crazed with the population pressures of L.A., it was driving me nuts. I was living in Woodland Hills where it was 116 degrees in the summer. Here, I’m close to the ocean and it’s a much smaller town and it’s misty and my house is surrounded by trees that were planted back in 1909, so it’s all totally overgrown.”

Sept 7, 1995 | Read full interview

Quentin, Angelica, and Julian - not far from their aunt's house

Quentin Bell

Virginia Woolf, in her letters and diaries complains of the problems in acquiring proper clothes — the tiresomeness of shopping, of dressing for parties. Other memoirists of the period, writing of Virginia and Vanessa, describe the women’s dress as dowdy and unfashionable. I asked Mr. Bell, who has something of an interest in fashion, what he recalled about his aunt’s dress.

“She was baffled by the whole psychology of dress. In a way she wanted to be invisible, I think….”

March 21, 1996 | Read full interview

James Lee Burke: "used to write poetry, but by popular demand, I stopped”

James Lee Burke

As far as my writing is concerned, I was influenced most by John Dos Passos, Flannery O’Connor, Hemingway, certainly Faulkner. I guess to a degree Eudora Welty, Katherine Porter, Caroline Gordon, and certainly Robert Penn Warren, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Thomas Wolfe. There are so many great American writers; you can give dozens of names and still have dozens left.”

July 25, 1996 | Read full interview

Tobias Wolff: "My wife is always joking when she reads my rewritten things"

Tobias Wolff

When he teaches the short story in a course, he said, his concern was to break down students’ preconceived ideas. “I bring in different kinds of stories and show how many things a story can be. The older I get the more infinite the possibilities of the story form seem to me to be. There is the story according to Chekhov, according to Tolstoy, according to Calvino, to Barthelme, to Carver, and take it on from there.”

Nov. 7, 1996 | Read full interview

David Lehman: was Lionel Trilling’s graduate assistant at Columbia University

David Lehman

“A guest editor would be the variant, so the volumes would be different, one from another. John Ashbery will have a different view of what the best poetry is from Adrienne Rich, and both will differ from Louise Gluck. In this way people who are interested in Ashbery will be interested in that volume in particular. People interested in A.R. Ammons will be interested in that volume. So it chronicles the taste of our best poets.”

Nov. 14, 1996 | Read full interview

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