Life-chang­ing work

New Straits Times - - Pulse | Well Lit. - NYT

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

BOOKS?

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.

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