The author, most recently, of “Finders Keepers” has never read Jane Austen. “I do not say this with either pride or shame (or prejudice, for that matter). It’s just a fact.”
What books are currently on your night stand?
None. I don’t read in bed, so there’s nothing there except for a glass of water and a bottle of Tums.
Who is your favorite novelist of all time?
Probably Don Robertson, author of “Paradise Falls,” “The Ideal, Genuine Man” and the marvelously titled “Miss Margaret Ridpath and the Dismantling of the Universe.” What I appreciate most in novels and novelists is generosity, a complete baring of the heart and mind, and Robertson always did that. He also wrote the best single line I’ve ever read in a novel: Of a funeral he wrote, “There were that day, o Lord, squadrons of birds.”
Who are your favorite writers — novelists, nonfiction, journalists, poets — working today?
Novelists: Jonathan Franzen, for “Strong Motion,” and Kate Atkinson for the Jackson Brodie novels, which are marvels of plot. Nonfiction: Rick Perlstein, particularly for “Nixonland”; Abigail Thomas; and Mary Karr. Journalists: Laura Miller. But I also get a kick out of The Filthy Critic, and Hondo, in The New York Post.
What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
I love mysteries and suspense most of all. I read some horror/supernatural stories, but not as many as people might think. I like straight novels if the subject looks interesting. Questions like this disconcert me, because I’m sort of an omnivore, apt to go from the latest John Sandford to D. H. Lawrence to Cormac McCarthy. I don’t have much interest in “relationship” novels or romance. I’ve never read Jane Austen. I do not say this with either pride or shame (or prejudice, for that matter). It’s just a fact.
Of all the genres you write in, which is the most fun? The most difficult? The most rewarding?
The most fun comes when you catch hold of an idea or a situation that’s simple but filled with possibility — “The Long Walk,” “Thinner” and “Cell” all come to mind. The most difficult by far (at least for me) is the novel of mystery. “Mr. Mercedes,” “Finders Keepers” and the forthcoming “The Suicide Prince” — the Hodges trilogy — were extremely difficult. I just can’t fathom how people like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Peter Robinson and Ruth Rendell are able to do this in book after book. The most rewarding books are the ones where the finished story almost lives up to the idea that sparked it. I felt that way about “11/22/63” and “Bag of Bones.”
You’ve written a number of novellas over the years. What’s the attraction of the form? And what novellas in particular do you especially admire?
I never in my life set out to write a novella. They are usually short stories that “just growed.” So the form has no particular attraction. To the contrary, they’re too big to be small and too small to be big. I can’t think of a single novella I love, although there are plenty of great short novels, like “Of Mice and Men,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Flowers for Algernon.”
Music has been a big part of your life and infused your work. Do you have favorite books about music or books written by musicians?
“Mystery Train” and “Lipstick Traces,” by Greil Marcus; “Rednecks and Bluenecks,” by Chris Willman.
What books might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?
Hmmm. Poetry, maybe? I love Anne Sexton, Richard Wilbur, W. B. Yeats. The poetry I come back to again and again are the narrative poems of Stephen Dobyns.
Take a moment to praise a few unheralded writers. Whom should we be reading?
The Niceville trilogy, by Carsten Stroud. Sarah Lotz. “The Death House,” by Sarah Pinborough. “The Lie,” by Hesh Kestin (and “The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats”). Karin Fossum. Thomas Perry. The list is endless.
Do you enjoy fiction in translation? Stories from particular corners of the world?
I actually avoid novels in translation when I can, because I always have the feeling that the author is being filtered through another mind. I read “Nana” last year, and swapped back and forth between two translations. They were quite different — not in the plot, which is simple, but in the mode of expression. That said, I read Pierre Lemaitre, a really excellent suspense novelist, and the aforementioned Karin Fossum. And of course the wonderful John Ajvide Lindqvist. I also enjoyed Stieg Larsson, wooden prose and all.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Your favorite book? Most beloved character?
Oh my God, I read everything from Nancy Drew to “Psycho.” My favorite was “The Shrinking Man,” by Richard Matheson — I was 8 when I found that. I also loved comic books, and my favorite characters (I can’t remember any I’d call “beloved”) were Plastic Man and his clueless sidekick, Woozy Winks.
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite or the most personally meaningful?
“Lisey’s Story.” I’ve always felt that marriage creates its own secret world, and only in a long marriage can two people at least approach real knowledge of each other. I wanted to write about that, and felt that I actually got close to what I really wanted to say. I also still like “Misery,” because Annie Wilkes was such a fun character to write about. She took on a life of her own.
If you could pick your next book to be turned into a movie or TV series, which would it be and why?
The three novels about retired detective Bill Hodges are slated to become a TV series, and I really hope that happens. I like the camaraderie between Bill and his friends.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
Everybody has a suggestion for that guy. Let him read whatever he wants.
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Émile Zola, Thomas Hardy and Flannery O’Connor. That would be fun.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” was kind of a letdown after all the critical hype — a bit of a slog. Probably that was just me. I really can’t remember the last one I put down.
What book hasn’t been written that you’d like to read?
Whom would you want to write your life story?
Dave Barry, of course.
What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
I keep coming back to “The Hair of Harold Roux,” by Thomas Williams. But really, there’s so much to read that I just keep forging ahead.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
“Remembrance of Things Past,” Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun” and a dozen novels by Jim Thompson.
What do you plan to read next?
“Wayfaring Stranger,” by James Lee Burke. He’s a gorgeous prose stylist. Nearly in his 80s now, I think, and as good as he ever was. Such a thing gives hope to those of us who are getting on in years.