Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Writers at Work: Paris Review Interviews Series 1

This is the first collection of Paris Review interviews. Again I read interviews of some of my favorite writers and of a couple I haven’t read much but would like to. This volume includes interviews with E.M. Foster, François Mauriac, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Thorton Wilder and Georges Simenon, whom I'd never heard of.

Like the collection I read a few weeks back, these interviews made me feel like I was in the room with a master. Dorothy Parker was as witty and perceptive as one would expect. She talks about the pranks and loyalty she shared while working at Vanity Fair with Mr. Sherwood and Mr. (Robert) Benchley. (She never used their first names.) For example, another writer at Vanity Fair had a map of Europe over his desk on which he marked flags noting the battles of World War II (this was during the war). Parker would get up early just to get into work to change his flags each morning. I love this sort of puerile playing with someone’s eccentricities. It’s one reason why I love The Office.

Some tidbits I gleaned:

Both she and Benchley subscribed to undertaking magazines. Imagine. What a curious interest. She also explains how she does not think poverty is best for artists and that few great works are produced in a garret. (Yet this image persists.) She actually didn’t go to the Algonquin that regularly for the famed Roundtable lunches since she couldn’t always afford it.

Thorton Wilder thought it must be fascinating to be a miser as one would always be busy.

From all the writers one learns about their beliefs on what trends or beliefs are good for literature and writers. It’s like a written version of “The Actor’s Studio.”

I had never heard of Georges Simenon, but was intrigued as I paged through this. He was a French novelist who could complete a short novel in ten days. André Gide thought he was “perhaps the greatest” novelist of contemporary France. Simenon wrote his first novel when he was 17. He wrote detective novels and then tense psychological novels and used 16 pen names. By the time of this interview he had published 500 novels, some under his real name and some with a pseudonym. I’ll get one or two next time I’m at the library.

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