How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers by John Freeman
|How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers by John Freeman
|Reviewer: Sue Magee
|Summary: Interviews Freeman has had with 56 eminent writers over a period of fifteen years collected into one very readable book. Recommended.
|Date: November 2013
As a book reviewer there are certain people whom I hold in high regard and one of these is John Freeman. Not yet forty he has an enviable record as an editor to some of the big names in literature and it seems that every book of note for a decade and a half has been greeted by his review. Don't be misled by the title How to Read a Novelist - this isn't a guide to literary criticism, but a collection of Freeman's interviews with eminent authors. There are fifty six in total, ranging from literary giants such as Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan, Gunter Grass and Kazuo Ishiguro through to popular crime fiction writers such as Donna Leon.
Each piece opens with a some biographical details about the author - usually of no more than a page - which allows you to put them and their work into context. And then it's on to the conversation with the author, occasionally in the author's home but more usually in the publisher or editor's office or a hotel. But wherever it takes place Freeman seems to have the knack of being able to put them at their ease and to tease out of them unusual facts: Margaret Atwood as the inventor of a device for signing books remotely, Doris Lessing's regret that more people didn't read her science fiction books or Salman Rushdie being able to attend a conference almost incognito. There's nothing formulaic about the interviews either: Freeman's obviously well prepared and able to get the best out of his subjects without ever seeming to press them. He does admit though to having been less than successful when talking to John Updike.
It's a book which will never lose its usefulness: were the authors of the more passing variety then the book might fade into obscurity, but it's difficult to think of any of the authors who will not be read in ten - or twenty - years time. I would have loved an index - or even a list of the authors in alphabetical order - as locating that nugget which it's absolutely essential that you read to someone can be a little time consuming, but that's me quibbling. It's one of those books which you keep by the bed - or in a bag - to read when needed and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For a slightly different take on a similar subject we can recommend How to Read a Novel by John Sutherland.
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You can read more book reviews or buy How to Read a Novelist: Conversations with Writers by John Freeman at Amazon.com.
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