My first, and hopefully only, did not finish of the year. I have been in the hold queue for several months for How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman. I have been really looking forward to it and I am so disappointed by it.
The book is a collection of author interviews Freeman has done over the years. It is a stellar cast that includes Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood and so many others, a veritable who’s who of the literary world.
I expected lengthy interviews that, given the title, focused on the nitty-gritty of novels and novel writing and reading and literary opinions. The reality is each interview is three to nine pages with most of them coming in around four to five. The format is not interviewer question followed by author answer. Instead, Freeman has “written up” and reported on the conversation and sprinkles in a few direct quotes. I read five of them and they were all the same, all short newspaper or magazine pieces and, frankly, boring. How anyone can make Morrison or Atwood or David Foster Wallace boring is beyond me.
These are not deep and probing Paris Review-like interviews but short and shallow pieces done when a new book was published that I can imagine as part of the publication promotion flurry that authors are required to submit to these days. I found them so disappointing that I should have stopped after the first one but I couldn’t believe how bland it was so I read another and another until after the fifth I called it off. It’s not going to get any better.
I don’t understand why these interviews were collected like this in the first place since they don’t say anything interesting or valuable. I’d like to say something nice about them but I am at a loss. Oh wait, I know. These would be great for the drowsy five minutes just before you fall asleep at night or when you are just home from the dentist and hopped up on nitrus oxide. Sorry, that’s the best I could do.