The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives

Image of The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives
Release Date: 
September 8, 2020
Reviewed by: 

“This is a very good read, especially at introducing writers at all levels to authors they may want to know more about.”

The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager is an interesting look into 23 award-winning authors and how they came to their writing careers through the books they have read.

Pearl and Schwager begin each interview with a comfortable setting where the interview takes place, then introduce each author with a brief background and accounting of the various awards they have won.

They interview each author with a basic set of questions, primarily beginning with questions like “What are you reading now?” or “What do you read for pleasure?” Although such questions appear to be very elementary, they get the interview off to a good start and give the interviewee an opportunity to express what type of literature is interesting to them, and how their reading choices set the stage for their own writing.

The questions then become more personal to each author. When interviewing Jonathan Lethem, Schwager asked the question “You’re sort of a legendary book collector. Can you talk about that?” This question opens the door for a discussion on the types of books Lethem has collected as well as the authors he is particularly fond of.

The questions are well designed to give the author the opportunity to expand on their own lives and what, if any, specifics they have used in their writing. In a conversation with Susan Choi, the author discusses books that she liked as a child but as an adult she sees them in a different light. When talking about The Chronicles of Narnia, a book she started reading with her sons, she says she stopped because of “The racism, which I hadn’t noticed as a child. The duplicitous, swarthy, turban-wearing bad guys. And the good and noble, blond-haired, blue-eyed white people.”

The double interview they do with Michael Chabon his wife Ayelet Waldman is particularly interesting as the interviewees tend to correct each other and nudge each other with various answers to the same questions thus giving more insight into the personalities of the authors.

Each interview is conducted in a very casual manner, like bringing the reader to the table to meet Pearl and Schwager and their many interviewees. And it should be noted that Pearl and Schwager did their homework, that is, they are familiar with each author’s work(s) and as a result the discussions often center around a particular favorite story by the author with whom they are speaking.

While interviewing Richard Ford, Schwager says, “The first book of yours I fell in love with was Rock Springs, which is still one of my all-time favorite books of short stories. Who are the short-story writers you most admire?” This question not only lets everyone know that Schwager is familiar with the author’s work but gives the author the opportunity to express his own favorite writers, why they appeal to him, and how they influenced his writing

One interesting issue that arises in the interview with Charles Johnson, is a turn-about, when Pearl comments, “Tell us about John Gardner—I know you were his student. I really appreciated his book On Moral Fiction.” And Charles turns her question into one of his own when he asks, “You like that book? Why?” She gives him a brief answer, opening the door for him to respond in detail about the book.

In the interview with Vendela Vida, they talk about setting, specifically the vagueness described in Bonjour Tristesse and yet Vendela’s comment, “It’s primary about your interior landscape . . . and to that extent I feel like Bonjour Tistesses really captures that age.” To which Pearl replies, “The setting ends where your body ends. You’re like a turtle, you take your shell with you wherever you go.”

While the interview questions frequently provide much the same approach to each author, they elicit a wide variety of responses and provide the reader with good insight into each author, thus giving the reader the opportunity to read authors they might not have selected in the first place.

At the end of each interview is a list of some of the books each author has written, and this gives the reader a good place to start their own search, should any of these authors appeal to them.

This is a very good read, especially at introducing writers at all levels to authors they may want to know more about.