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Comment from the book world in November 2020

November 2020

Lee Child on why we turn to fiction

30 November 2020

‘We turn to fiction for the satisfactions that we don't get in real life. In reality you know that if a crime is committed against you they're never going to find out who did it. If your house is broken into they probably won't even show up, and if they do you'll never get your stuff back. If your car is stolen, you'll never see it again. We live with this sort of buzz of frustration and dissatisfaction. So we turn to fiction for clarity and consolation and closure. You know in a book like the Reacher books of course you're going to get your car back. Of course they're gonna find the guy.'

Lee Child, author of the 25 Jack Reacher novels, from Killing Floor to The Sentinel, who has recently handed over the writing to his brother


Booker Prize winner on his debut novel

23 November 2020

‘Growing up as the boy I was and now the man that I am in New York, they feel like two very different people. And so, though this is on-the-back-of-a-cornflakes-box psychology, it was a good way for me to make sense of the whole of me and to sort of stitch myself together. I love the boy I was. It wasn't always easy but I wanted to conjure that world. Fiction allows you take control of a situation that you might not have control over in real life. On the west coast of Scotland, we are never allowed to think of ourselves as exceptional - never exceptionally great or exceptionally hard done to. And a memoir is thinking there's an exception there that is worth sharing...

(He was acutely aware of writing "poverty safari" for a largely middle-class readership.) People like to come through for a tour and then they go back to worrying about oat milk. I thought, "Well if we are going to do that, then you are coming for a stay." We are going to look at a woman drinking. You are going to be in the room with these people to the extent that you are going to leave the book with some sense of understanding them.'

Douglas Stuart, author of debut novel Shuggie Bain, which has just won the 2020 Booker Prize, in the Guardian



'Why does the writer write?'

16 November 2020

'Why does the writer write? The writer writes to serve - hopelessly he writes in the hope that he might serve - not himself and not others, but that great cold elemental grace which knows us.

A writer I very much admire is Don DeLillo. At an awards ceremony for him at the Folger Library several years ago, I said that he was like a great shark moving hidden in our midst, beneath the din and wreck of the moment, at apocalyptic ease in the very elements of our psyche and times that are most troublesome to us, that we most fear.

Why do I write? Because I wanna be a great shark too. Another shark. A different shark, in a different part of the ocean. The ocean is vast.'

Joy Williams, author of The Visiting Privilege, The Quick and the Dead, Ill Nature, State of Grace and The Changeling


'Culture is what's left when you've forgotten everything'

9 November 2020

‘We can't really take in everything we read in a book. When you think about what you remember of a book a month or a year later, it's a distillation - sometimes you remember an image or a scene or a moment in the plot, or an idea in an essay. You don't actively remember the entire experience, at least not consciously. My father used to say that culture is what's left when you've forgotten everything...

What we retain from our reading is that it's all there. It comes back to Proust and his madeleine - you don't know what moment will bring you back experiences or memories, whether they're things you've lived or things you've read.'

Claire Messud, author of The Emperor's Children, The Burning Girl, The Last Life and The Woman Upstairs in the Observer