fb-pixel Skip to main content

For Richard Russo, it’s Dickens, dogs, and John Prine

Richard Russo, the author of 14 books including the Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Empire Falls."Elena Seibert

Richard Russo, the author of 14 books including the Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Empire Falls,” has called Portland, Maine, home for the past seven years. There, he and his two daughters have markedly expanded the port city’s literary scene. Emily Russo co-owns the independent bookstore Print, and Kate Russo will publish her first novel, “Super Host,” in June. In July, Russo’s last novel, “Chances Are,” the story of three longtime friends bound by a mystery, comes out in paperback.

BOOKS: How is the pandemic affecting your writing?

RUSSO: At first I felt the way I did after 9/11, that it was silly to be spinning tales when the world was spinning out of control. I didn’t write for three weeks after 9/11. Then I thought, “if it’s folly to be telling stories now, then it always was. This is what I’ve chosen to do with my life and it’s not invalid.” After spending the first two weeks of the pandemic glued to the TV and not writing, I came to the same realization. So I’m writing, and it’s the sanest part of my day.

BOOKS: What are you working on?


RUSSO: “Nobody’s Fool” came out in ’93, and then “Everybody’s Fool” came out in 2016. It seemed like there was some unfinished business there, so I’m working on what could be the third of a trilogy. I’m only 40 pages into it. In the beginning of a novel you feel like you’ve woken up in an absolutely dark room, and you’re just feeling along the walls to see how big the space is.

BOOKS: Can you concentrate?

RUSSO: Yes. I’m under the spell of the work. I look out my window at Casco Bay, but I’m not here. I’m totally back in North Bath with Sully and those folks. That probably says something about me that may not be entirely good, but I have found I’m able to fully concentrate, on reading too. My entire schedule between now and October has been canceled. In some ways that’s exhilarating because that has opened my reading life.


BOOKS: What have you been reading?

RUSSO: I always dip into Dickens and will pick up “Great Expectations” or “David Copperfield” and read a chapter. I’ve been rereading an early American gothic novelist, Charles Brockden Brown. One of his books takes place in Philadelphia during an epidemic.

BOOKS: What else have you read?

RUSSO: I just finished Jennifer Finney Boylan’s “Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs.” It pretends to be about these dogs, but it’s about what the dogs have taught her. The other book that I loved recently is Jessica Anthony’s new novel, “Enter the Aardvark.” I can guarantee that you’ve never read anything like this. I also read a gorgeous book by the Irish writer Anne Griffin, “When All Is Said,” which is about a widower who on one evening raises five toasts, which lead us through his life. At times like this it’s such a blessing to be a reader. Reading lets you get over yourself. If I couldn’t do that I’d be climbing the walls.

BOOKS: What have you been watching?

RUSSO: I’ve found it almost impossible to watch television even though I love movies and TV. But now my attention drifts. I’m not sure why that is. If I watch anything it’s shorter things. “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” is wonderful because he’s wonderful but also because his programs are short.


BOOKS: What are you listening to?

RUSSO: We turn to certain artists in bad times and for me that’s Springsteen. This whole thing became much more real a couple of weeks ago when we lost John Prine. I’ve been listening to a lot of him, Jason Isbell, and Roseanne Cash, who just soothes my soul.

BOOKS: What else is helping you get through the pandemic?

RUSSO: Often after dinner with my wife, Barbara, I find myself writing an e-mail or two to people who I haven’t been in touch with in a while. It’s not something I normally do because if we have had wine with dinner that has a way of showing up in the e-mails. When life moves merrily along, we are blithe about staying in touch with people. When something like this happens we realize how wrong we are. So I write e-mails, if only to say “Hi.”

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.