Saturday, December 22, 2012
Lee Child: By the Book
The author, whose lead character makes his film debut this weekend in “Jack Reacher,” would like to ask Shakespeare, “Why did you make ‘Richard III’ so damn long?”
Pedantically, none, because I don’t have a night stand. My décor is maximally minimalist, and my bedroom has a bed and nothing else. But even if I had a night stand, there wouldn’t be a book on it, because I can’t read in bed. I don’t drift off. I’m too eager to follow the story or the argument. The few times I’ve tried it I have read all night and haven’t slept a wink.
So my version of the question would be: What book is on your kitchen counter now, waiting to be picked up in the morning while the first pot of coffee brews? And today’s answer is: “Live by Night,” by Dennis Lehane. I always read for an hour or two in the morning, before I do anything else. And Lehane was in my graduating class, so to speak, in that we came up together, and in some ways he’s the best of us.
What was the last truly great book you read?
The words “truly great book” set a very high bar, don’t they, in the context of the last couple of centuries. Therefore I’d have to pick “The Lost,” by Daniel Mendelsohn. Nonfiction, but only incidentally. It’s a memoir, a Holocaust story, a detective story, both a rumination on and an analysis of narrative technique, a work of Old Testament and ancient Greek historiography, and a work of awful, heartbreaking, tragic suspense. A book of the decade, easily, and likely a book of the century.
Who are your favorite mystery writers?
I have many, many reliable favorites. But true admiration depends on them doing things not too close to what I can do myself. So, from way back, the Brit Dorothy L. Sayers, perhaps. From slightly more recently, and unsurprisingly, Raymond Chandler. From the middle distance, the Swedes Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. From the current day, Joseph Kanon.
Is there a particular author or genre you enjoy that might surprise your readers?
I read anything and everything, so there’s bound to be many things. I just read a book about geometric patterns in medieval English brickwork. But, notably, I’m a sucker for long, multigenerational sagas, especially "wronged girl grows up and gets rich and gets revenge" stories, like Barbara Taylor Bradford’s “A Woman of Substance.” I even enjoyed Jeffrey Archer’s “Kane and Abel.”
You’ve lived in the United States since 1998. Any significant differences you’ve noticed in the way British and American readers view your books?
No real differences, and I think we can see that, with rare and random exceptions, the same books tend to do well or badly in both countries, in a kind of cultural lock step. With my books, the difference seems to be between Britain and America on one hand, and Western Europe and Scandinavia on the other. The English Channel is the threshold, not the Atlantic. Europeans and Scandinavians seem to see my books as super-guilty pleasures, possibly because they’re appalled by the kind of lawless vigilantism that we see as in some way metaphoric.