Sunday, November 9, 2014

By the Book: Stephanie Patterson

I’m sure most of you are aware of the New York Times feature By the Book in which writers and celebrities are quizzed about their reading habits. Since I’m not a celebrity and my manuscripts are mostly unfinished, I don’t think the Times will be visiting soon.

So I decided to talk to myself (something at which I excel) and produce my own BTB.

What books are on your bedside table?

I don’t have a bedside table. I do have a very large end table. Most people would call it the floor. Currently it holds any number of things: Beatrice Webb’s Diaries, Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes, Chasing Lost Time by Jean Findley. Paris Was Yesterday by Janet Flanner, Knight Errant by Robert Stephens, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher among others. (We’re talking the floor after all)

What kind of reader were you as a child? Did you have a favorite book?

Indiscriminate. My mother was essentially a single parent so she had to take me along on errands. I got Little Golden Books from the supermarket. Later I remember getting weekly supplements of a encyclopedia and then a world history. The one image I remember from the world history volumes was a picture of Paul Klee’s “Twittering Machine.” I looked at it a lot and finally saw it “in person” in June at the Neue Galerie in New York City. I loved Little Women. I remember scenes and lines from that book more vividly than many books I’ve read more recently. I could never decide whether I wanted to be Jo or Beth. Jo was really more to my taste, but Beth died so nobly.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Why do you alway ask about the president? The guy reads, no question. What about what Republicans should be reading? Let’s start with the Constitution. First they would see that the Constitution is not comprised solely of the Second Amendment. Then there’s the bit about “the well-regulated Militia.” Jaylen Fryberg wasn’t part of anybody’s militia. Some people value gun ownership over human life. That upsets me.

The president might try laughing over PG Wodehouse, but of course he’d have to answer for reading frivolous British comedy while the world was going to hell.

If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

Well, I’d have to have a dinner party. Shakespeare and Chekov are off the list because they have so many invitations from other writers. For my husband, I would invite George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells and Dick Francis. I would also invite Winston Churchill, Anthony Trollope, all of the Mitford sisters (though Nancy probably wouldn’t come as she didn’t like Americans) and George Eliot. I would also like to talk to David Foster Wallace to tell him how much many readers still miss him and to let him know he singlehandedly made me care about Roger Federer. And I’d want to spend some time with Reginald Hill whose mysteries I so enjoyed. For living writers, how about the writers on this blog? They’re lively on the page; I’m sure they’re lively in person. I want to drink Broken Hearts with them. From what I’ve read about the potency of the drink, this would mean spending the night in Manhattan. YAY!

Do you prefer paper or electronic books?

I like both. I have many in both formats. The Kindle allows me to carry around an entire library. I would never have read David McCullough’s Truman if it wasn’t available electronically.

Didn’t you promise your husband you wouldn’t buy paper books once you got a Kindle?

Now you’re getting personal. I have indeed broken that promise. I can’t imagine Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? would be very enjoyable on my Kindle. Many older books are available only in paper. Hard as it is to believe, G. M. Young’s biography of Stanley Baldwin (once described as “the most hostile authorized biography ever written”) is not available as an ebook.

I think you’re making excuses.

Oh, go away. I have better things to do than talk to you. I have to design a reading list for Republicans.

© 2014 Stephanie Patterson


  1. It's always fun to see how other writers live, what their private lives are like. Good luck with your list for the Republicans. tjstraw

  2. There is something oh so pretentious about the many of the questions the TIMES asks. Or maybe what I resent about them is the implicit assumption that reading is oh so serious. What'[s on the night table. God forbid any of those writers would have something, I don't know, fun? One book for the president? One writer living or dead? Thanks for the bracing replies. And thank God you have a pitcher of Broken Hearts to help you get through.

  3. I have to say I was a little taken aback when they interviewed Amanda Knox on her prison reading. I forget what she was reading but I don't think fun entered into it. Perhaps her lawyer thought it would be a good idea for her to look serious. Or perhaps it was meant to suggest that if she read literature she couldn't commit murder. The Times has just published a volume of these BTB pieces. Amanda's was not included.