Paul Theroux on reading, writing and travel

THEROUX: “solid mandalaWritten by Patrick White. I am a big fan of his novels but I have not read this novel, which is about two brothers. He is an Australian writer who has been overlooked despite winning the Nobel Prize. “vos“It is his most famous book. Before that I read”Red Badge of Courage“Because I read Paul Auster’s biography of Crane,”burning boyAnd it’s a very good book. I read constantly, but rarely do I read a famous book or a new book.

booksDo you read one book at a time?

THEROUX: I read a book for pleasure in the evening and I read for work during the day. Write an introduction to Mark Twain’s travel bookinnocent people outside. It’s so cool and so funny. I have a stack of Twain books and biographies next to my chair.

books: What is the best trip you’ve taken to reading?

THEROUX: Perhaps the trip I took around the Mediterranean for my bookPillars of Hercules. “It took me to many places where writers lived or wrote about them. I met Paul Bowles in Tangiers. I read”hot sky. “I re-read that and a lot of his other books. I went to a place Carlo Levi wrote about in”Christ stopped at Eboli‘, a fantastically wonderful book. You name a writer and they have written about the Mediterranean. Henry James, Lawrence Durrell, Sappho, Euripides.

books: Have you read these books before or during your trip?

THEROUX: Both. Before I met Paul Bowles, I wanted to read books I hadn’t read, like “Spider’s home. It’s humiliating to meet a writer without reading his work. You can’t just show up and say how are you? Bowles lived alone in a cold apartment on a back street in Tangiers. He was uninspiring.

booksAre there travel books that you re-read?

THEROUX: One I’ve read many times is “Absley Sherry Garrard.”The worst trip in the world“On Admiral Scott’s Fateful Voyage to the South Pole. Reread”Maine Woods” And the “WaldenBoth books are wise. I read travel books for information rather than literary stimulation, but some are brilliantly written, like these.

books: What are your reading habits?

THEROUX: If I admire a writer, I read all of his books and biographies. Elizabeth Taylor was a brilliant English writer who was not well known in the United States. I read all her books and then I read her autobiography. When you read her novels, you think she’s a suburban woman who doesn’t know much about the world. It turned out that she was a member of the Communist Party, had a very passionate life, and traveled a lot.

booksWho has influenced you the most as a reader?

THEROUX: VS Naipaul, whom I met in Africa in 1966. He was a genius, but an evil one. He read all the time and often came up with witty suggestions for books. He disliked many famous writers, such as E. M. Forster and Jane Austen, but he was a fan of Dickens, Shakespeare, and Indian writers. He introduced me to many Indian writers that I had never heard of. He suggested books to me even later in my life, like Jean Reiss’ book.The wide Sargasso sea. He said he didn’t like women writers but was keen on them.

booksIs there a writer you would like more people to read?

THEROUX: I think most college courses would benefit from a lack of prejudice towards old white men, old books, or books with warnings. Joseph Conrad is now unfairly upset. People say forget Conrad and read Toni Morrison. I would say read them both.

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