When Richard Ford is between novels he reads more but admits he mostly doesn’t do much of anything. “I’m idle,” the Pulitzer Prize winner says on the phone from his Boothbay Harbor, Maine, home. He comes to Boston next month to headline the Boston Book Festival and read from his new novel, “Canada.”
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
FORD: “The Enigma of Arrival” by V.S. Naipaul, which is a spectacular book. I’m making myself pore over it because it’s so good.
BOOKS: Are you a slow or fast reader?
FORD: Slow. I’m dyslexic. If you can reconcile yourself to not being able to burn through books, which you shouldn’t any way, you can slow the whole process down. Then, because of my disability, there is more for me in imaginative literature than there is for other people.
BOOKS: How does that work?
FORD: I get very involved in the internal logic of sentences. For example, what I like about Naipaul is in every turn of phrase he’s creating new intelligence. Not theoretically. He’s creating new intelligence about getting along day to day in the world, about makes being alive more pleasurable, consequential and immediate. I don’t want to be taken to Bhutan and smell the flowers. I want to be told something I couldn’t have been told any other way.
BOOKS: So a book that was predominantly narrative wouldn’t do it for you?
FORD: If it was Raymond Chandler it would.
BOOKS: When did you start reading like this?
FORD: About 20 years ago.
BOOKS: Who met the grade for that who you read previously?
FORD: Before I figured out what was great about literature? Eudora Welty had it. Faulkner. Alice Munro.
BOOKS: What was your reading like before this?
FORD: Dutiful. Remember when you were kid in school and the teacher was always telling you there’s more here than you see. There’s a line of Henry Moore’s, “Never think of the surface except as an extension of a volume.” I was thinking there was a volume but where the hell was it?
BOOKS: Were you slow to come to reading?
FORD: I read comic books, “Freddy the Pig” books by Walter Brooks. I wrote a senior term paper on Thomas Wolfe without reading one of his books. I didn’t read a serious book until I was 19.
BOOKS: Weren’t you in college by then?
FORD: Just about. I went to college to study hospitality. I quickly got out of that and realized that what I liked to do was write. But to write you had to read so I backed into reading. I had some scintillating teachers who taught me to how to really read. One was an 18th century guy. Those novels are often very funny, such as “Tom Jones” by Henry Fielding. He’d make me engage my imagination rather then always look to the text to provide the answers.
BOOKS: You’ve lived a lot of places. Did any have an affect on your reading?
FORD: I grew up in Mississippi being told it was a great place, but not feeling that. When I finally began reading seriously, literature showed me something about where I was from which was worthwhile.
BOOKS: Any books in particular that did that?
FORD: “The Moviegoer,” by Walker Percy. It’s pure South, but isn’t shuck and jive.
BOOKS: Do you have any particular reading habits?
FORD: When I write a novel I start each morning by reading for 20 minutes. I read a lot of poetry, William Blake, Philip Larkin, James Wright, T.S. Eliot. My professor, Donald Hall , introduced me to his poetry and that of his generation, such as Robert Lowell, Galway Kinnell, and Philip Levine.
BOOKS: You had some formative teachers haven’t you?
FORD: I needed them. If I hadn’t had them I would have been a lost puppy. I wouldn’t be a very good writer if someone hadn’t taught me how to read.
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