By PJ Parrish
Sue’s post yesterday on the need for creativity in our trying times got me to thinking — why has my urge to write anything gone pffft? I figured it out — all my creative juices lately are going to helping me and my own stay sane.
Not easy in these times of cabin fever, quest for toilet paper, and real fears. I’m walking more than ever, and I gotta tell you, there’s been an unexpected joy in seeing my neighbors and friends out more. And this morning was really lovely — I was all alone with my dogs, a hovering dawn fog and a very loud symphony of birdsong. (Loud because there are no cars).
Yesterday, I ventured out to a toy store to buy a jigsaw puzzle. The sweet young clerk told me they are doing a bang-up business. Seems even the kids are getting tired of video games and Scrabble is sounding pretty exotic. I am looking for good things, small as they may be.
I am also reading more. Normally, I cleave to fiction but this week I started Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: The Battle For Our Better Angels. It is a history of our democracy, with every wart revealed and wonder exalted. It’s beautifully written and very affirming. We will get through this, Meacham says, we’ve endured worse. You don’t believe me? Well, here’s the sad story of Nathan Bedford Forrest…
Books are so vital right now. Whether you’re escaping to Treasure Island or retreating into the romance of Danielle Steele. (Although I’d vote that you should re-read Judith Krantz. She’s much funnier and very randy). I wish the libraries were not having to close right now.
So, forgive me today if I have no good writing advice. My mind is elsewhere. Let’s play a game instead.
One of my favorite stops in my Sunday New York Times is the By The Book feature in the book review. Famous folks are interviewed, asked the same questions week after week a la the format popularized by the great James Lipton of Inside the Actor’s Studio. (“What sound do you love?” “What’s your favorite curse word?” “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?”)
This week in By the Book, Emily St. John Mandel was questioned. (She’s the author of one of my favorite books Station Eleven.) So here are the questions, but I am going to give you my answers. That’s because I will never be famous enough to be asked but always wanted to be. Please weigh in with your comments and answer any of the questions that move you!
What book are on your nightstand? The Meacham book, plus Robert B. Parker’s The Judas Goat. Just added a really ratty copy of Wuthering Heights that I found this week at the GoodWill. I figure it’s time.
What’s the last great book you read? Your first thought is usually your best one. I immediately grasped upon Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I still think about the people in that book sometimes.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, how?). Somewhere foreign so I can’t understand anything on TV. It’s raining. My dogs are snoring at my side.
What’s your favorite book no one else heard of? Well, my tastes aren’t esoteric enough to dazzle anyone and I refuse to make something up to sound important. So I will recommend two: Jim Harrison’s memoir A Really Big Lunch. If you love cooking, wine and great writing, this is for you. (A tip from Jim: Don’t drink and cook at the same time. But if you must, only one glass of prosecco.)
Also, try Di & I by Peter Lefcourt. Leonard Schecter, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, goes to London, meets the unhappy princess and they run off to travel across America in a mini-van, and end up running a McDonald’s in Cucamonga, California. I’m a royalist and love books about the twisted Windsors. This made me laugh til I cried.
Which writers working today do you admire most? I will read a grocery list if Joyce Carol Oates writes it. Or maybe I am just envious of her work ethic. So that’s it. Your turn…
Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you? This was easy. My own first book, Dark of the Moon, written with my sister, remade a sibling into a beloved friend.
How do you organize your books? Roughly by subject. Crime fiction on one shelf, my dance books from days as a critic on another, etc. My husband has shelf with rock biographies. I recommend Keith Richard’s Life because anyone who is more durable than Astroturf deserves to be heard.
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing? Do I remember? Hell yes, I remember, because these books take up valuable time and energy and leave you angry for months for being so gullible, sort of like a bad blind date. So this gives me yet one more chance to trash Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. (I mentioned it in Jim’s Sunday post). I love fiction set in old England. But this was first-person pretension and overwrought prose prettified with preface graphics of family trees. Which still didn’t help me keep all the guys named Thomas straight. A friend told me I have to let this go and suggested I read Infinite Jest to regain some perspective.
What say you, guys? Your turn to talk about books. Stay safe. I know that sounds banal but sometimes banal, like rice pudding, is what works.