Welcome to the newly relaunched Five Questions With Grace! After a much needed hiatus, I’m back with a long list of fun interviews with your favorite authors!
I decided to relaunch on the pub day for the fiction debut of America’s favorite librarian, Nancy Pearl! She has published several non-fiction books, is a regular contributor to NPR, and has a popular monthly show, Book Lust With Nancy Pearl, on the Seattle Channel. Nancy’s novel, George and Lizzie (Touchstone) came out on September 9th and has been highly anticipated! She gave me an advanced copy when I saw her a week ago, so I’ve been getting lost in the exquisitely-crafted tale. Be sure to pick up your own copy of this wonderful book!
Here are Nancy’s answers to my Five Questions:
1. If you could have been the author of any book that has ever been published, what would it be and why?
There’s so many books that came to mind when I read this question, among them Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, Ruth Doan Macdougall’s The Cheerleader, Laurie Colwin’s Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, Leah Hager Cohen’s Heart, You Bully, You Punk, but if forced to choose just one, it would be Anne Tyler’s Searching for Caleb. It was a difficult choice between that and Tyler’s novel Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant because they both have everything I look for in a book: wonderfully quirky characters, beautiful but not baroque or self-conscious writing, and a plot that grows out of the character of the characters, rather than having the story thrust upon them. Yes, Searching for Caleb for sure.
2. What do you need around you when you start working on a book? (E.g. Gallons of coffee, absolute quiet, a lucky pen…)
Diet Pepsi and almost total quiet. Also, a place to write that isn’t at home and has no Internet access. I live in a pretty small and narrow townhouse, so I have to write in the center of everything, at the dining room table, and of course we have Internet. It’s too easy to sit down at the computer and check my email or Twitter or Facebook, then look around the house at the things I need to do (make dinner, dust the shelves, take out the trash, and, of course, read all the books that have come in for review). My best writing is done when I’m visiting someone who’s gone all day and their house is empty and I have no responsibilities for it.
3. For some horribly twisted reason you are forced to condense your book collection to just one small shelf. What six books would make the cut?
The Collected Poems of A.E. Housman
The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
Neal Stephenson: Cryptonomicon
Anne Tyler: Searching for Caleb
The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin
Merle Miller : A Gay and Melancholy Sound
4. What one piece of advice would you go back in time to give yourself when you were first starting off as a writer?
I’m going to sneak in two bits of advice, because they’re short: 1) Write for yourself, not for the thought of possible publication; and 2) To manage to create a balance between believing in yourself and your work and heeding the advice of people who give you suggestions for making your work better.
5. SPOILER ALERT Which character from your new book, George and Lizzie, was the hardest to write and why?
All the character were pretty easy to write about because I felt I understood who they were and why they were that way. For that reason, even Lydia and Mendel, Lizzie’s parents, were easy to write about even though I disliked them intensely. The one character I felt the most distance from is Alicia, and luckily for me (and Lizzie, who feels the same way I do), she’s not around a lot.
Please watch this site for the next set of Five Questions – this time with best-selling picture book author and illustrator, Ben Clanton.
For those who don’t already know, I host a nonfiction bookclub, called True Grace, at a local bookstore. I have varied interests so the subjects and books that I’ve picked so far have been equally diverse. From digital culture to botany. Last week, we ventured into architecture and philosophy with The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. A beautifully-written, intelligent, and elevated book which is part walking tour of architectural history and part meditation on the nature of beauty and the meaning of shape. I particularly enjoyed the passages where he gave examples of how much we personify objects and symbols – from typeface to furniture.
As for the bookclub, we had about 10 people that night, butterfly sugar cookies, and I raddled off some Advanced Reader copies of new nonfiction titles. We also had a special guest – a local retired architect who I had invited to join in the discussion. He and his firm were responsible for designing many of the important buildings in the city and he, personally, was awarded the American Institute of Architecture’s Lifetime Award for Contribution to Design.
It was wonderful having his expertise present during the meeting since the book, although appreciated by all, was of a subject that was a little tricky to analyze and discuss. Our guest was able to share many insights and answer our questions – so much so, in fact, that I’ve been approached my book club members since then to set up a second group discussion of this topic.
My overall impression is that I enjoyed this book and learning about the different architects and styles and it is definitely something that I will continue to read and study (as you can see by all of the post-its and notes above.) I didn’t, however, agree with everything he said, for example the theory that you can only appreciate the beauty in buildings and windows and doors if you’ve experienced the sobering effect of misery and heartache. I know that I found myself in awe of the ancient temples and forts of India when I was just eight years old, without a failed marriage under my belt. However, in general, the writing stimulated a great deal of thought- I found myself looking at buildings in different, deeper ways – asking myself what emotions architecture is designed to inspire in the viewer. How do the colors, the shapes, the level of ornament make us feel now and make us aspire to later. Is who we are as a community determined by the state of our city planning it is it the other way around? What does the way we chose to live say about who we are as a people? So many things to think about the next time we are commuting through our neighborhoods.
As unbelievable as it may be, Cinco de Mayo is not just a celebration of the Five Dollar Margarita! It, in fact, commemorates the underdog Mexican Army’s victory over much larger French troops at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862.
My homage to this festival today is a literary one – a gathering of favorite colors and books to celebrate the culture of that wonderful country.
Frida Kahlo: Una Biografia by Maria Hesse
I fell in love with this beautiful, illustrated biography of one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo, by another fabulous artist, Maria Hesse. Everything about this is just so perfect . The ivory pages crinkle slightly to your touch, the format stands out in a sea of other books, and the lush illustrations, while capturing all of the vibrancy of Mexico, are sublime in their subtlety. All of the gorgeous colors we associate with that country and with Frida are here – but muted, soft, and dreamy. Another plus in my books is that it is written entirely in Spanish! I’m looking forward to putting my three years of high school Spanish to good use.
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
The fiction buyer at my favorite local bookstore is a huge fan of Luiselli and so this surreal, genre-bending novel came highly recommended.
Paint The Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950
Fourteen essays, by authors from both the United States and Mexico, exploring the four decades of cultural and political upheaval during which Mexico emerged as a hub of modern art. Beautiful pieces by Frida Kahlo, Maria Izquierdo and Manuel Rodriguez Lozano to name a few.
Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone!