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Paulette Jiles on reading about crime, action, and exploration

Paulette Jiles is an American poet, memoirist, and novelist.
Paulette Jiles is an American poet, memoirist, and novelist.HarperCollins, BookStudio16

Readers first met, if briefly, the itinerant musician Simon Boudin in Paulette Jiles’s best-selling and critically acclaimed novel “News of the World.” In “Simon the Fiddler,” Jiles turns the spotlight on Boudin and follows him as he navigates the Civil War and its rocky aftermath in Texas. This is Jiles’s sixth novel. “News of the World,” which was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, was adapted into a recently released film starring Tom Hanks. The novelist, memoirist, and poet calls a small ranch outside of San Antonio home.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

JILES: In the past couple of weeks I’ve had a hunger for poetry for some reason. I have gone back to some old favorites. My friend Naomi Shihab Nye, who was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry, has a new collection out, “Everything Comes Next.” I’ve also been reading Rita Dove and Thomas Merton, my favorite of all time.

BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?


JILES: Omnivorous, but I tend to read a lot of nonfiction. Because of the book I’m working on, I’ve been reading books about serial killers, such as Erik Larson’s “Devil in the White City.” He’s such a good, good writer. I also read Skip Hollandsworth’s “Midnight Assassin,” which is about a serial killer in 1890s Austin who was never caught. His prose is very lively. For novels I tend to go to science fiction.

BOOKS: Who are your favorite science fiction writers?

JILES: I like worlds of pure fantasy, such as John C. Wright’s “Awake in the Night Land.” That’s a stunning piece of work. I like Jack Vance, especially “Tales of the Dying Earth.” You can’t help but be attracted to his bad guy, Cugel, even though he’s a thief.


BOOKS: When did you start reading science fiction?

JILES: When I was very small. My brother and I devoured it. In our small town library in Missouri, the librarian accidentally put Orwell’s “1984” in the kid’s science fiction section. We were fascinated by it and tried to speak Newspeak. That librarian also put Carlos Castaneda’s “Journey to Ixtlan” in the travel section. There was a surprise on every shelf.

BOOKS: Who is your top classic author?

JILES: Dickens. I reread him a lot. He’s so endlessly fascinating, and gives us so many details of life from London and other places then. “Nicholas Nickleby” is my favorite. Over time, however, I have changed my mind about some of his books. I’ve grown to dislike “Great Expectations” and parts of “David Copperfield.” Some of his characters are so goody-goody they are too mushy to carry the weight of the narrative.

BOOKS: Are there any authors you wish were better known?

JILES: I read in Spanish as well and have been working on a translating the medieval epic poem of “El Cid” from Old Spanish. It cost me a lot of effort but working from Old Spanish gives you such a wonderful flavor of those times.

BOOKS: What other kinds of fiction do you read?

JILES: I read the kind of fiction that takes me away to another world. I love the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. I have the “H.M.S Surprise” lying open on my bed. It’s hard to find stories of adventure that are well done but you can always depend on Patrick O’Brian.


BOOKS: Who else would you put in that category?

JILES: Guy Gavriel Kay, who wrote “River of Stars.” I read that two or three times. It’s a historical reconstruction of the Ming Dynasty, and the hero is based on a real person, a peasant boy who grew up to become head of the emperor’s army.

BOOKS: Do you like adventure stories in nonfiction too?

JILES: I spent a lot of time in the Arctic and love books about Arctic and Antarctica explorers. I have a whole shelf of them. I have Roland Huntford’s “The Last Place on Earth,” which is about the race to the South Pole, and Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “The Worst Journey in the World.” He found Captain Scott and his two companions frozen to death. You sit up at night reading these about these adventures, and the explorers are down to eating their shoes, and you think, I’m getting hungry. I need a peanut butter sandwich.

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.