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Arthur Phillips: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Arthur Phillips was born in Minneapolis in 1969 and educated at Harvard. He has been a child actor, a jazz musician, a speechwriter, a dismally failed entrepreneur, and a five-time Jeopardy! champion. His novels include Prague, The Egyptologist, Angelica, and the newly released The Song Is You.

Tell me about your library.

I tend to keep only those books that I think are 5-star, or that I need for current research. My library is almost entirely fiction, and it's alphabetized by last name. What else? Paperbacks, usually, as they take up less space. First bookcase: Amis, Kingsley through Mann, Heinrich. Second bookcase: Mann, Thomas through Woolf, Virginia.

What are you reading now?

I am reading a lot of Shakespeare and things about Shakespeare because of the book I am writing at the moment, so as we speak I am sitting next to Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt.

What books would people be surprised to know you own?

All the Sherlock Holmes? All the Flashman? All the LeCarre? All the Raymond Chandler? The Marquis de Sade?

You said in your LibraryThing Author Chat that your novel "The Egyptologist ended up being about, among other things, my deep love for Pale Fire." What books or authors inspire you?

I could list dozens of writers, hundreds of books. Let's just pick a country.

Canada? Fine. I love Robertson Davies, and the Deptford Trilogy knocked me out when I read it in college.

Italy? Italo Svevo, Italo Calvino, The Leopard by Lampedusa...

Hungary? Gyula Krudy or Sandor Marai.

You've traveled a lot, it seems. What's your favorite place?

I have lived very happily in several places in the US and Europe. I was very happy in Budapest, so happy that I wrote a book about it (Prague). I was very happy in Paris (where I wrote The Egyptologist). Strangely, I wrote the Victorian ghost story, Angelica, on the sunny beaches of South Carolina.

Your new novel, The Song is You seems like a departure from your previous novels. It's set in present day, for one. Tell me more about the book.

It's a strange love story, I suppose. A love story between two people who consider whether they might be happier if they never meet. A love story of a man for music (especially his iPod). A love story of a shattered marriage. It's also got some Jeopardy jokes. It is set in the present, very much the present. 2009, January to November...

You were a Jeopardy! champion! Do you go to trivia nights at local bars and clean up now?

I went to one with some friends. They cleaned up; I drank and cheered them on.

If you could write a final Jeopardy! question on authors, what would it be?

This American author lost on Jeopardy on a very easy question, and should have known better, and apparently would have known the answer if he had gone to Princeton. Too bad he's a loser. (Who is Arthur Phillips?)

And lastly, what's on your iPod?

That's a very personal question, and one that would require listing all 8,000 songs, so that you had a full picture. How about this, instead: favorite classical composer: Erik Satie. Favorite jazz sax player: Dexter Gordon. Favorite band to come out of Manchester, UK: tie: The Smiths and New Order.

—interview by Abby Blachly

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About author interviews

Each month we feature a few exclusive interviews with authors in our "State of the Thing" newsletter. Know an author who might want to be interviewed? Find out more.

 

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