I like fiction by writers engaged in trying to make sense of their lives and of the world in which they find themselves, writers who palpably have skin in the game, and this makes me particularly resistant to historical fiction.
By Walter Mosley
A good mystery has to be a good novel, and any good novel takes us on a journey where we discover, on many levels, truths about ourselves and our world in ways that are, at the same time, unexpected and familiar.
Science and regligion, capitalism and socialism, caste and character are all on the auction block. The waters are rising while we are dreaming of dancing with the stars. We call ourselves social creatures when indeed we are pack animals. We, many of us, say that we are middle class when in reality we are salt-of-the-earth working-class drones existing at the whim of systems that distribute our life's blood as so much spare change. These subjects can be addressed in fiction or plays, even in poetry, but now and again the plain talk of nonfiction is preferred.
I find books in used-book stores, chain and independent stores, on freinds' shelves, and being read by some woman sitting opposite me on the subway. I find books the way a cow finds a new pasture, by looking to see where the other cows are headed.
i find books on the Internet and in overheard conversations at restaurants. And, more and more, I find books in my memory; an author's name that some professor (whose name I have now forgotten) mentioned in a seminar, the topic of which I no longer remember. I remember the writer's name and sometimes later a title comes to mind. After a few days I connect the author's name and the title. It's a small step from there to reading happily on the Staten Island Ferry.
By Khaled Hosseini
Qualities you need to get through medical school and residency: Discipline. Patience. Perseverance. A willingness to forgo sleep. a penchant for sadomasochism. Ability to weather crises of faith and self-confidence. Aceept exhaustion as fact of life. Addiction to caffeine a definite plus. Unfailing optimism tha tthe end is in sight.
Qualities you need to be a novelist: Ditto.
I love just about any kind of story as long as it is well told, makes an emotional impact, and holds an elusive sense of myster. That said, it has been many years since I've read fantasy of science fiction.
By James McBride
Any you steer clear of?
Corny, unbelievable novels; political books; stories by super-duper mountain-climber types who spend thousands snowborading or travering high peaks and wiritng books about it while they could be digging water wells in Peru someplace, helping somebody. I avoid pulp fiction. I dig spy novels. I read more history books than anything else. I'd like to see a book that tells us who those people are on bikes who wear those funny little uniforms and ride all over the road.
A clean office, devoid of funk, without open books and dirty coffee cups and papers strewn around, would drive me bananas. If anything, I prefer traffic and sirens. But in a structural sense , jazz demands that you negotiate the road ahead with certain restrictions - tempo, harmony, chords, and so on - and that's a good template for the working writer. You can't write just anything. Your story needs structure. Jazz sets out a kind of road map that you're supposed to follow, but there are limits. If you're playing a solo in the key of B flat and play, say, an F sharp or B natural, you better have a good reason for it - or be Charlie Parker. You can make it work, of course, but remember this: Even though you're driving the car, you may not know the exact route home. If you trust the music, and stay within the parameters, within that framework, you'll get home. Same with writing. That's why I say writing is an act of faith. But my way may not be the best way.
By Donna Tartt
I love having an alternate life to retreat into and to lose myself in. I love being away from the world so long - so far out from shore.
Even as a child browsing at the library I distinctly remember avoid books that had teh big silver Caldecott award sticker on the front, because I loved fairy tales, ghost stories, adventures, whereas the Caldecott prize stories often had a dutiful tone that tended more toward social issues. All I want from a book is the tingle down the spine, for my hairs to stand on end.
Just because you love a writer's books doesn't necessarily mean they would be great company.
By Amy Tan
They included notions of suffering, thwarted love, the Cultural Revolution, a forlorn look at the past, and a nostalgic Shanghai A love story could have been seen as criticism of the Cultural Revolution.
Chinese American writers: Yiyun Li and Ha Jin. with their particular mix of displaced characters, circumstances, and past. Their stories often have tragedy, but rise above that. They elicit discomfort and compassion - good and necessary conditions that change me, as any writing is capable of doing by putting me in unfamiliar situations and magnifying the details I would have overlooked.
It has much to do with imagery and language, a particular perspective, the assured knowledge of the particular universe the writer has created.
By Chang-rae Lee
Like most people, I'm fascinated by characters who are completely flawed personalities, riven by anguish and doubt, and are psychologically suspect. Waait a minute - basically that's everygbody, isn't it, in life and on the page? As a writer, I'm drawn to characters who, for one reason or another, seem to find themselves desperately out of joint, alienated but not wanting to be, and ever yearning to understand the rules of teh game.
By David Mitchell
Many children are natural fantasists, I think, perhaps because their imaginations have yet to be clobbered into submission by experience. The state of childhood resonates with life inside a fantasy novel. If you have no control over how you spend large chunks of your day, or are at the mercy of flawed giant beings, then the desire to bend the lawas of the world by magic is strong and deep. I don't mean that kids can't distinguish fantasy from reality - the playground bully will clarify the matter gratis - but fantasy offers a logic to which kids are receptive, and escapism for which kids are hungry.
both fantasy and SF have made inroads into literary fiction and influence even those novels whose imprint logo is reasuringly conservative.
Reading, maybe not a lot, other than to nudge me toward books and away from people, which maybe is a lot, after all. As a future writer, however, my stammer was an effective if merciless boot=camp instructor. It trained me to amass a vocabulary flexible and muscular enough to aboid words beginning with stammer-consonanats, and do so on the hoof, before the other person caught on. My stammer also taught me about register - it was no good substituting "autodidact" for "I taught myself" because in a bog-standard state school in 1980s Britain using a word like "autodidact" got you convicted of talking posh, an offense punishable by being hung from iron railings by your underpants. What I didn't know at the time was how linguistic register helps a novelist flesh out charcater and lends authenticity to dialogue or narrated thought.