Book Review: The Paris Review Interviews Volume IV Edited by Philip Gourevitch

I had so much fun reading the book-length interview with Robert Silverberg, Traveler of Worlds, which Fairview Press published recently, that I thought I might enjoy reading more author interviews.  What I really wanted was more interviews with science fiction and fantasy writers, but in the absence of those, or at least in my ignorance of the existence of those, I opted for the Paris Review.  In short, it ain’t the same, folks.  There is some interesting material in these interviews, but in no way do they contain the lively fascination of the Silverberg one.

Normally I read a book from cover to cover, but early on I had to allow myself to skim pages and skip interviews in which I was not at all interested.  The book contains interviews with poets as well as writers and goes all the way back to the 1950s.  Some of the poets I had never heard of, and these I gave a miss.  The interview with William Styron that opens the book was interesting enough in a slow, genteel sort of way, as Styron compares himself with other famous Southern writers.

The interview that surprised and appalled me, though, was with Jack Kerouac.  I was looking forward to that one.  Although I don’t really read his books anymore, when I was young On the Road had a profound influence on my life.  It was one of the catalysts that set me off on my own journey as a writer. Yet the Kerouac interview was profoundly disappointing.  Kerouac was silly and frivolous, and sometimes some of the things he was saying made no sense at all.  It was as if he had lost it; he couldn’t hold his intellect together.  His time as a shaper of the culture had passed, he was left in the backwater, and this interview was in his waning years when he could not come to grips with the changes happening around him.  Very sad stuff.

The Philip Roth interview was interesting.  There you can see a keen intellect at work, and it is fascinating to hear him discuss his books.  V.S. Naipaul was also acute and intelligent in his discussion of his growth as a writer.

The interview I found most interesting, though, is with Haruki Murakami, the Japanese novelist who has taken the fantasy and magic realism world by storm.  His books, translated into many languages, continue to be international bestsellers. His accounts of his writing process and what goes through his mind as he composes are fascinating and absorbing – so much so, in fact, that as soon as I finished reading the interview I logged onto the Seattle Public Library website and reserved one of his novels.  It wasn’t easy; most of his books had multiple hold requests.  But I found a large print copy of his latest novel available right here at the local library.  I can live with large print, as long as it’s unabridged.

In summary, compared to the Silverberg interview, this book is a disappointment.  Even on its own terms, it’s a mixed bag, with some really slow, anachronistic material alongside a few interviews that shine.  I would imagine that the other Paris Review interview books would have the same sort of limited appeal.  If you want to check them out, do as I did and allow yourself to skim.  You’ll find gold among the dross.

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