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The Paris Review Interviews IV by The Paris…

The Paris Review Interviews IV

by The Paris Review, Paris Review

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The fourth collection of author interviews printed in The Paris Review contains sixteen interviews, including those with William Styron, Jack Kerouac, E.B. White, P.G. Wodehouse, Maya Angelou, Haruki Murakami, Marilynne Robison, and more. The interviews are organized in chronological order, with the oldest published in 1954 and the most recent in 2008, just a year before this collection was printed.

The interviews are done in a variety of styles, from multiple meetings with an author to a live interview in front of an audience; in all cases, the authors are allowed to review the interview and edit, clarifying points before the interview sees print. This makes for a unique blend of artistry between the interviewer and author, as the conversation ranges from thoughts on writing and reading to politics and life in general. The type of writing the author is known for is identified at the beginning as "The Art of Fiction" or "The Art of Poetry," for example, and the interviewer frames the interview by outlining the writer's life and describing where they met and the conditions of the interview itself.

I received this book for my birthday three years ago. I started reading it immediately, but slowed down when I reached the fourth interview, that of E.B. White. He was identified as a writer of essays, while I only knew him as the author of Charlotte's Web and the other children's books. I thought I'd read his entire oeuvre has a child. So, before I read the interview, I had to first read a book of his essays. I didn't stop to read any other author's works before reading their interviews, but I was most interested in those of authors I've read. I loved Maya Angelou's, which was the one done in front of an audience. I was intrigued by the personal look into Marilynne Robinson's life and work, having read her three fiction titles. Though I expected to enjoy the authors I was familiar with, I was surprised at how much I was interested in the interview with Stephen Sondheim, as he talked about the art of writing musicals. There is such a variety of authors and opinions in here, that I can confidently say there's something for anyone interesting in authors and the writing process. ( )
  bell7 | Jun 24, 2013 |
As a writer and an avid reader I love most interviews with authors, but "The Paris Review" interviews are particularly wonderful! The questions are thoughtful, the answers revealing, the interviewers take their time and aren't afraid to stray from the point and explore tangents. The only reason I gave this volume 4 stars instead of the 5 stars I gave the other PRI volumes in my library is that this one doesn't include quite as many of my favorite authors as the others. Still... this is absolutely worth the read! ( )
  bkwurm | May 17, 2011 |
A big thanks to Frances and Camille for turning me on to the Paris Review interviews! I received the third and fourth volumes of the selected interviews for Christmas, and have been making my slow but delighted way through the fourth ever since. Number Four contains interviews with two of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami and Marilynne Robinson (which is why I started here), but it's chock full of thoughts from other luminaries of the last 75 years, including but not limited to William Styron, Marianne Moore, Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, P.G. Wodehouse, Maya Angelou, and Paul Auster.

It's always hard to write about collections of things - poems, short stories, interviews, essays. How to encompass what made the reading experience special, when a collection is composed of many diverse parts rather than a unified whole? But here's what I'd like to say about reading these interviews: truly, I got so much more out of them than I anticipated. I was expecting to page through, perhaps even skim, the interviews with authors I hadn't read, pausing for a more in-depth read only on the relatively few with whose work I was familiar. This is not what happened. Not even close. Instead, I found myself feeling more as if I were reading character-driven short stories than mundane "interviews." The distinctive voice of each author came through so clearly: Styron's crotchety, expansive good-old-boy-ism; Moore's careful precision; Kerouac's self-involved exuberance; Wodehouse's sunny, bumbling optimism; Naipul's jumpy reticience, eventually overcome. Sometimes, as with Kerouac, these personas were the ones I expected to find. Other times, probably more often than not, they held surprises. Paul Auster, for example: given the hard-polished, seemingly soulless cleverness of his New York Trilogy, I was expecting a self-congratulatory cynic. Instead, he struck me as shockingly sincere. Listen to him gush, for example, about what the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne:

But there's more to Hawthorne than just his stories and novels. I'm equally attached to his notebooks, which contain some of his strongest, most brilliant prose. The diary he kept about taking care of his five-year-old son for three weeks in 1851 is a self-contained work. It can stand on its own, and it's so charming, so funny in its deadpan way, that it gives an entirely new picture of Hawthorne. He wasn't the gloomy, tormented figure most people think he was. Or not only that. He was a loving father, and husband, a man who liked a good cigar and a glass or two of whiskey, and he was playful, generous, and warmhearted. Exceedingly shy, yes, but someone who enjoyed the simple pleasures of the world.

I relate so strongly to Auster's joy here at finding a multi-facetedness to Hawthorne—a deadpan humor and a liking for good cigars, when all most people see is a "gloomy, tormented figure." The humanizing influence is so charming, both in what Auster has to say about Hawthorne, and in what the interview reveals about Auster himself. Reading his interview made me reevaluate my relationship to his work, which I had regarded as a kind of clever joke on the reader, but which I now tend to think about in a more serious light. On one hand, I think this makes The New York Trilogy slightly less successful, due to its lack of soul...but on the other hand, knowing there's more substance to the author than I had realized makes me more excited to read his other work. I'm now inclined to judge him more stringently, but with more respect.

By the age of fifty, most of us are haunted by ghosts. They live inside us and we spend as much time talking to the dead as to the living. It's hard for a young person to understand this. It's not that a twenty year old doesn't know he's going to die, but it's the loss of others that so profoundly affects an older person—and you can't know what that accumulation of losses is going to do to you until you experience it yourself. Life is so short, so fragile, so mystifying. After all, how many people do we actually love in the course of a lifetime? Just a few, a tiny few. When most of them are gone, the map of your inner world changes. As my friend George Oppen once said to me about getting old: what a strange thing to happen to a little boy.

I mean, what a gorgeous observation! And really, the whole volume is full of this kind of gem. One of my most exciting discoveries is the poet John Ashbery, whom I admit I had never heard of before reading his interview. I connected with it so strongly, though, that I sought out Ashbery's work and am now in the midst of his gorgeous yet enigmatic Notes from the Air. I related to his account of gradually coming to the realization that the people who produced nineteenth-century poetry had their own vital reality:

I didn't really get a feeling for the poetry of the past until I had discovered modern poetry. Then I began to see how nineteenth-century poetry wasn't just something lifeless in an ancient museum but must have grown out of the lives of the people who wrote it.

I remember going through this same process of realization about pre-contemporary literature (say, anything published before 1900) early in college. It was a visceral, un-cerebral epiphany; I reached a point at which I had amassed enough life experience myself to be able to empathize with and relate to people whose worldviews were very different from my own—to recognize what was essentially similar through the veil of differences. Before it happened, I experienced Shakespeare as a kind of alien being, whose characters, I had to accept, acted in ways not understandable in terms of my own existence. Which offered me very limited options for interacting with his texts. Sometime early in college something clicked for me, and I recognize the motivations that make Hamlet dither over killing his uncle, or Edgar put off revealing his identity to Gloucester. They suddenly seemed like real people to me, just living in different circumstances. (Obviously Ashbery has benefited from his long career in poetry; look how much more concise his version of this process is than mine!)

So too, I shared Ashbery's thoughts on ambiguity in art:

The idea of relief from pain has something to do with ambiguity. Ambiguity supposes eventual resolution of itself, whereas certitude implies further ambiguity. I guess that is why so much "depressing" modern art makes me feel cheerful.

This idea seems very apropos to the recent Woolf in Winter discussions. Woolf is the poster girl of so-called "depressing" modern art, yet I find much of her work positively exhilarating, and I think a lot of it has to do with her ability to evoke and even celebrate ongoing ambiguity. Most of my favorite writers—Woolf, Ishiguro, Welty, Proust—are able to coexist peacefully with conflicting impulses and uncertainties, and resist tying anything up into a neat little package for the reader. Perhaps I wouldn't go so far as to say that their work makes me feel "cheerful," but it does match up with my lived experience, and so gives me the deeply-felt pleasure of discovering a kindred spirit. As Murakami says in his own interview, "I always hope to position myself away from so-called conclusions."

There's no way I can share all the satisfying moments and fascinating tidbits in these interviews. I loved learning about the process by which Murakami's novels get translated into English (some smaller countries actually translate from the English rather than the original Japanese!); was engrossed by David Grossman's reflections on control of language in the Israeli press; was impressed by Hermione Lee's insightful questions in her interview with Philip Roth; was gobsmacked to learn that Stephen Sondheim grew up in a surrogate-son relationship to Oscar Hammerstein, and learned song-writing from him (and was also intrigued by Sondheim's reflections on how much less suited the English language is to writing rhyming poetry than the French and Italian). My ear for gossipy details loved picking up little facts of the writer's life—that Maya Angelou rents hotel rooms and writes on the unmade beds, for example.

But what I loved most about reading these interviews was basking in the sense that what we all do, here in the book-blogging world—talking about literature; wrestling with how it works and why; pondering the mysteries of it—is work that's worthwhile, and even important, to do. I look forward to my slow but rewarding journey through the other three volumes and beyond.
  emily_morine | Mar 3, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312427441, Paperback)

With an Introduction by Salman Rushdie
For more than fifty years, The Paris Review has brought us revelatory and revealing interviews with the literary lights of our age. This critically acclaimed series continues with another eclectic lineup, including Philip Roth, Ezra Pound, Haruki Murakami, Marilynne Robinson, Stephen Sondheim, E. B. White, Maya Angelou, William Styron and more. In each of these remarkable extended conversations, the authors touch every corner of the writing life, sharing their ambitions, obsessions, inspirations, disappointments, and the most idiosyncratic details of their writing habits.

The collected interviews of The Paris Reviews are, as Gary Shteyngart put it, "a colossal literary event."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:06 -0400)

Here is the fourth collection of brilliant interviews to be gathered together, a bible both for readers and writers, the insider gossip for those who are truly passionate about their prose. With a new introduction by Salman Rushdie, this new edition makes indispensable reading for all those interested in what makes our greatest writers tick.… (more)

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