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Bibliophiles

Reading everything from Dr. Seuss to books about war

Kirk Wallace Johnson’s new book “The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast” tells in dramatic detail a forgotten story of xenophobia, white supremacy, climate change, and corporate negligence.Maria Josee Cantin Johnson

Kirk Wallace Johnson’s new book “The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast” tells in dramatic detail a forgotten story of xenophobia, white supremacy, climate change, and corporate negligence. Johnson is also the author of “The Feather Thief” and “To Be a Friend Is Fatal,” and the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, which he started after serving in the Iraq War.

BOOKS: What are you reading?

JOHNSON: This might be a totally absurd interview for you because I have two kids who, thankfully, want to spend time with me, which means that I’ve got a mountain of books I’ve only started or partially completed. We are on vacation so I’ve started Jonathan Franzen’s novel “Crossroads” for the fourth time. Every time I open it my kids run over and physically close the book. There are books I’ve been slowly chewing through.

BOOKS: What are some of those you liked?

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JOHNSON: I’m reading a lot of books about climate change. Tyler Kelley’s “Holding Back the River,” David Owen’s “Where the Water Goes,” and Brian Eyler’s “Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.” Eyler travels down the river and shows you what a rough future it has ahead of it.

BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?

JOHNSON: There’s no cohesion to my reading. I’m constantly buying a broad range of books that spark my interest. I read a lot about big pharma. There’s a great book called “The Hard Sell” that Evan Hughes just wrote. I also read “Neighbors” by Jan Gross. It’s a pretty horrifying book about a Polish town in World War II where half of the citizens murdered the other, Jewish half. That’s dark, but that is a lot of my reading. I have this kind of emotional seesaw every day. I will read some ghastly history during the day and then at night I shift to reading about creepy carrots, wooden robots, and log princesses to my kids.

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BOOKS: What’s the last novel you loved?

JOHNSON: One novel that bowled me over a couple of months ago is Jean Hanff Korelitz’s “The Plot.” It just made me wince and cringe the whole way. It’s about a failed author who steals a plot for his story from a student who passed away, and then goes on to international fame.

BOOKS: What did you read for your own book that you would recommend?

JOHNSON: Taylor Branch’s trilogy is a gift for anyone who wants to understand the civil rights movement. Fredrik Logevall’s “Embers of War” is an important history of Vietnam right up to our involvement in the war there. The novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote a great nonfiction book about Vietnam, “Nothing Ever Dies.” Kathleen Belew’s “Bring the War Home” is about the resurgence of the white power movement after the fall of Saigon. That is another great book.

BOOKS: Who has influenced you as a reader?

JOHNSON: My oldest brother was the first one in our house to have a computer. I was constantly pounding on his door because I wanted to play on his computer. He set up this deal that for every hour I wanted to play on his computer I would have to copy out by hand Shakespeare or “The Canterbury Tales.” I also had to write out the definitions of the words I didn’t know. To this day I still see words I learned as a 7-year-old because I was impatiently putting in an hour copying these classics so I could play King’s Quest.

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BOOKS: What are your kids’ favorite books now?

JOHNSON: “The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess” by Tom Gauld is in the heaviest rotation. They also finally are asking for Harry Potter, which is their first non picture book. We are in book three.

BOOKS: What are your favorites to read?

JOHNSON: Those “Frog and Toad” books by Arnold Lobel are just so sweet. We reread those several times every month. It’s funny. I’m scrolling through the books on my iPad, and it’s a bunch of Dr. Seuss and some ghastly books on war. It’s a perfect depiction of my reading life right now.

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.