WHAT MOVES YOU MOST IN A WORK OF LITERATURE?
Being transported — to a place, a time or the inner workings of a character’s heart — and completely forgetting where I was before I started reading. Personally, I love redemption stories and people who find their way, even stumbling, to a better place. On the other hand, I am unmoved by dark and hopeless novels that reveal how quietly miserable mankind can be. I understand why some people think these are high art. But I don’t want to live there.
WHICH GENRES DO YOU ESPECIALLY ENJOY READING? AND WHICH DO YOU AVOID? I enjoy magical realism, tightly written thrillers, nonfiction stories of courage and grace, and books that weave unforgettable tales with remarkably few words, like Jim The Boy by Tony Earley or River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. I avoid grim, angst-ridden, navel-gazing books and horror. Enough of that in the real world.
AHOW DO YOU LIKE TO READ? PAPER OR ELECTRONIC? ONE BOOK AT
A TIME OR SIMULTANEOUSLY? MORNING OR NIGHT?
I admit having held out against e-books for a long time, lugging my bag of books on long trips because I like to read several things at once. Either my back or my resistance gave out. I now download a tonne of books on my iPad. It makes you feel like you are reading more than you actually are, which is dangerous. But it does allow instant access, which is how I read — back of a car, airplanes, before bed, wherever I can steal time. Never mornings. That’s when I write.
HOW DO YOU ORGANISE YOUR
Very methodically: Alphabetically by author; first fiction, then nonfiction, then plays, screenplays, music, film, history, biography — then whatever shelf has room. WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE
EVER RECEIVED AS A GIFT?
I once mentioned to some sports journalist friends that as a child I loved an out-ofprint library book called The Royal Road To Romance by the adventure traveller Richard Halliburton (published in 1925). In England, covering Wimbledon, these friends somehow found an original edition in a bookshop and for no special occasion, bought it for me. It was so kind. I treasure it.
WHAT KIND OF READER WERE YOU AS A CHILD? WHICH CHILDHOOD BOOKS AND AUTHORS STICK WITH YOU MOST?
My mother took me every Saturday morning to our small local library and left me there for three hours to read and then choose a book. Once, when I was maybe 7 or 8, I picked Twenty Thousand Leagues Under
The Sea (because the cover had a picture of a submarine) but the librarian refused to let me check it out. “That’s too hard for you,” she said. On the way home, when I told my mother, she screeched the car, drove back, charged in and screamed: “Never tell a child a book is too hard for him! And never this child!” She grabbed the book, marched out and once home, made me read it. And of course, it was too hard for me. But I ploughed through. I always say that was the day I became a future writer because if this book thing was important enough for my mother to browbeat a librarian, it must be worthwhile.
OF THE BOOKS YOU’VE WRITTEN, WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE OR THE MOST PERSONALLY MEANINGFUL?
It has to be Tuesdays With Morrie, because it was so accidental, was turned down by so many publishers and was only written to pay Morrie’s medical expenses. Yet it transformed my life from a myopic sportswriter into an eternal graduate assistant for my old professor’s final class.
My friend Amy Tan, the novelist, read an early draft of the book and warned me, “You’re about to become everyone’s rabbi.” While that is too lofty, she was right, in that Tuesdays has exposed me to countless encounters with people who have lost loved ones. They want to talk. You need to listen. And that changes you. It changed me. I hope for the better.