Best of Reading interviews 1999-2000

Susan Cheever, Annie Dillard, Anita Brookner, David Sedaris, and more

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Wallace Stevens. I read about the night in Key West when the drunk and timid Stevens got into a fistfight with Hemingway. The latter left Stevens with a blackened eye and fractured hand.

Wallace Stevens. I read about the night in Key West when the drunk and timid Stevens got into a fistfight with Hemingway. The latter left Stevens with a blackened eye and fractured hand.

Wallace Stevens

I remember why I bought The Collected Poems. Stevens’s “Anecdote of a Jar,” from his first collection, Harmonium, published in 1923, was in an anthology I owned. I read and reread “Anecdote of a Jar” in the same way I put the needle down again and again to hear Carl Perkins sing “Blue Suede Shoes” and Elvis sing “Crying in the Chapel.” I knew “Anecdote of a Jar” by heart.

Jan. 7, 1999 | Read full interview

Anton Chekhov shrugged off plot and focused down on his characters.

Anton Chekhov shrugged off plot and focused down on his characters.

Chekhov

“‘Gooseberries,’” said Ford, “is not one of my favorites. I wouldn’t have even put it in if I hadn’t known it was one of everybody’s favorite stories. It’s everybody’s favorite but mine. I don’t even think I understand it. I’ve read it about 25 times and I never find it heartbreaking. It’s an interesting story and all of those three men who congregate in that farmhouse are all people whom you wouldn’t very much like.

Jan. 14, 1999 | Read full interview

Susan Cheever quietly confides about her husband slugging her

Susan Cheever quietly confides about her husband slugging her

Susan Cheever

Cheever’s father, John, in addition to being one of America’s greatest masters of the short-story form, was, until the last years of his life, an alcoholic. He was also bisexual and in midlife began a series of covert relationships with men. Cheever said, about her father, “He was just so good at writing about alcoholism. He was good at a lot of things. But the hidden texture of his work was about the drinking.

Jan. 21, 1999 | Read full interview

Annie Dillard — generous about praising other people’s books

Annie Dillard — generous about praising other people’s books

Annie Dillard

She asked if I’d ever read Denise Giardina. “She’s a Christian intellectual who grew up in coal-mining camps. Her first novel was about a coal strike, and her second I didn’t read, but I am told by Lee Smith, whom I much respect, that it’s wonderful. And her third I did read, and it is a masterpiece, a novel about Bonhoeffer, and it’s called Saints and Villains. I started raving about it to Ann Beattie.”

May 6, 1999 | Read full interview

Tony Hiss: "My dad wrote 445 letters to us at home from prison."

Tony Hiss: "My dad wrote 445 letters to us at home from prison."

Tony Hiss

Chambers then produced microfilm that he had hidden in a pumpkin grown in a patch on his Westminster, Maryland, dairy farm. This microfilm showed documents identified as classified pages from the Departments of State, War, and Navy, some believed to have been marked by Hiss. Soon after, a federal grand jury indicted Hiss on charges of perjury. After two trials, the first ending in a hung jury, Hiss was convicted of perjury and sentenced to serve five years in a federal penitentiary.

July 8, 1999 | Read full interview

Hemingway in Paris - "he changed the way people wrote"

Hemingway in Paris - "he changed the way people wrote"

Hemingway

Hemingway was somebody who understood, somebody who had some answers, and somebody I could believe in. I recognized he wasn’t a bullshitter. He was the real thing. I knew it as soon as I read him. He was a guy who was tough on himself. He understood that if you’re going to make something of your life, you’ve got to be hard on yourself, you’ve got to acquire the kind of dignity that comes from having rules.

Sept. 2, 1999 | Read full interview

The shy Brookner by then had become an elegantly turned-out and confident woman. Her lectures were immensely popular.

The shy Brookner by then had become an elegantly turned-out and confident woman. Her lectures were immensely popular.

Anita Brookner

Brookner never married. She did receive proposals. But almost all the proposals, she said, “made me run the other way.” In a recent novel, she wrote, “The novels she had read in her studious girlhood all ended with a marriage, for that was how the reader wanted them to end, believing that marriage was the conclusion of the story. They gave no instructions on how to spend the time once the marriage was a thing of the past.”

March 30, 2000 | Read full interview

Gunn

Gunn

Thom Gunn

“Most of the American poets were not available in England in book form. Unless they were friends of Eliot, and I don’t mean that in a nasty way. Because he was at Faber, he published Pound and Marianne Moore.

Eventually, a year or two before I left England, Faber published Robert Lowell. But I had never even heard of William Carlos Williams. Just before I came over, I had been reading Hart Crane, though not in a book by himself.”

June 1, 2000 | Read full interview

Sedaris: “Right now I’m on the third floor, so I could hurt myself but I wouldn’t kill myself.”

Sedaris: “Right now I’m on the third floor, so I could hurt myself but I wouldn’t kill myself.”

Sedaris

“I remember being surprised that they were ashamed of their lives. I always thought you were supposed to be ashamed of your life if you were a poor person. But it seemed to me like it’s people with some degree of privilege that are often more ashamed of their lives than the people that we imagine. My childhood was not remarkable in any way. I don’t think really that any of my experiences have been that remarkable.“

June 8, 2000 | Read full interview

Packer: "Nixon, because of what he did to Stevenson and others, was my father’s most hated enemy."

Packer: "Nixon, because of what he did to Stevenson and others, was my father’s most hated enemy."

George Packer

Packer suggested that it was Adlai Stevenson more than Alger Hiss who, for his parents, was the “one who was martyred” by the rise of the conservative movement. “And Nixon,” he said, “because of what he did to Stevenson and others, was my father’s most hated enemy. My generation hated Reagan, but not with the same intensity that my parents’ generation hated Nixon. Reagan didn’t merit hatred. Nixon had all the evil qualities that merited it.

Oct. 5, 2000 | Read full interview

Karr: "Being able to read those sad soliloquies in Shakespeare. I never really liked the sonnets as much as a kid."

Karr: "Being able to read those sad soliloquies in Shakespeare. I never really liked the sonnets as much as a kid."

Mary Karr

“My friends in this book — for instance, John Cleary, the boy I first kissed, is still one of my best friends. He’s still one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known in my life. I just saw him out in L.A. He lives in California. Before I started writing the book, I said, ‘Look, this is what I want to write about, and are you uncomfortable with that?’ I didn’t ask him for information.”

Oct. 19, 2000 | Read full interview

Sifton: "We had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing.  And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”

Sifton: "We had some dot-com firms in the Puck Building that were growing. And I said, ‘My god, who are these people, and what do you call them?’ ”

Sam Sifton

I asked Sifton about the pleats and no-pleats in khakis.

“It’s just a product of my observational reporting, my comic sociology. I noticed when I went out to the West Coast to report, that the barristers — and the CEOs, for that matter — did not seem to be so much slaves to fashion as they are in the Silicon Alley. The Silicon Alley Cats are very, very wired into these flat-front khakis.

Dec. 7, 2000 | Read full interview

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