After her husband, novelist William Styron, died poet Rose Styron sold their longtime house in Connecticut and moved to their summer home on Martha’s Vineyard to live year-round. There she edited the “Selected Letters of William Styron.”
BOOKS: Has living on Martha’s Vineyard affected your reading habits?
STYRON: Now that I live here I’m always reading books that my neighbors write, such as Geraldine Brooks’s “Caleb’s Crossing” and “March,” and Tony Horwitz’s “Midnight Rising.” I looked into Art Buchwald’s funny, old books, such as “I’ll Always Have Paris.” I might not have read those if I’d been living strictly in Connecticut.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
STYRON: I just picked up Jim Harrison’s new book, “The River Swimmer,” and I’m in the middle of Stephen Greenblatt’s “The Swerve,” which I like. I’m almost finished with Chris Matthews’s “Jack Kennedy,” which I’m also enjoying. And Caroline Kennedy just sent me “The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.” My steady reading is poetry.
BOOKS: Who are your favorite poets?
STYRON: Some of my old favorites are William Butler Yeats and Dylan Thomas. Right now the ones I tend to read are Jorie Graham and Frank Bidart. I just read Wilfred Owen and other World War I poets. That made me pretty sad, but I loved them.
BOOKS: What prompted that?
STYRON: All the news of the war, all the young men who died uselessly in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’ve also been looking at C.K. Williams and Galway Kinnell because I’m about to go back to my own writing, which I put aside while I worked on Bill’s letters.
BOOKS: Did you both like the same authors?
STYRON: We were pretty much in agreement. I was thinking how much he would have liked “Midnight Rising,” which is about John Brown, and how he would have liked a book that has particularly moved me, Drew Gilpin Faust’s Civil War book, “The Republic of Suffering.” Bill read a lot more Civil War and Southern books than I did.
BOOKS: Did you share any reading habits?
STYRON: Neither reading nor writing habits. I read at night or when I was traveling. For him, reading was a very solitary, daytime procedure. Bill stayed in his study for hours every afternoon writing fiction, writing countless letters, or reading. I never even saw him read books for pleasure, only for research.
BOOKS: Did you make any discoveries about his reading from his letters?
STYRON: No. We talked all the time about what we were reading. When we first got together in Rome, we were both reading “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry. He talked about his favorite books, which were Thomas Wolfe’s “Of Time and the River” and all of Faulkner. I was devoted to Faulkner, too.
BOOKS: Did you talk about his book during your first meeting?
STYRON: It turned out that way. It was me, a painter, Truman Capote, and Bill. Truman and the painter were waxing eloquently about Bill’s “Lie Down in Darkness.” I said, “Oh, what a wonderful novel,” not having read it. Then Bill asked me out for the next night. The next day I went all over Rome looking for a copy of his book so that I could read it before our date. All I could find was a copy at a library in Rome as it was closing, which I grabbed quickly. Back then all the books there had opaque covers that were clear over the spines so you could see just the title clearly. When I got home I read a couple of chapters and thought, “Uh-oh, not very good,” and I put it down. When I picked it up the next day I saw that it was the right title, but not the right author. It wasn’t Bill’s book. When I went out with him that night I had to explain myself, and we laughed about it. He gave me a copy and, of course, I loved it.