Novelist, journalist, and held in thrall by books

Bob Shacochis

kelly lee butler

After making a big splash in fiction with his short-story collection, “Easy in the Islands,” and his first novel, “Swimming in the Volcano,” Bob Shacochis spent much of his career writing for major magazines. Then the National Book Award winner returned to his first love. He has spent the last decade writing his new novel, his second, in his off-the-grid mountain cabin in New Mexico. He reads from “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul” at Newtonville Books at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19.

BOOKS: Have you discovered any writers in New Mexico?

SHACOCHIS: Kevin Fedarko, who wrote “The Emerald Mile” about the fastest boat ride ever down the Colorado River. It should be an instant classic. Just recently Kirkus listed his book as one of the most overlooked nonfiction books of 2013.


BOOKS: What are you reading now?

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SHACOCHIS: I just finished Edwidge Danticat’s newest, “Claire of the Sea Light.” Her writing is always gentle and transcendent, and, of course, it sits in darkness. She’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Haitians criticize her for being a diaspora writer. Then she has the same problem that any writer writing about Haiti has. Americans don’t want to read about Haiti. They want to read about something more comfortable. Now I’m reading “The Hot Country” by Robert Olen Butler. It’s great narrative fun.

BOOKS: Have you regularly read detective novels?

SHACOCHIS: No. I read le Carré and Alan Furst. I just finished Furst’s latest one, “Mission to Paris,” and liked it. Graham Greene certainly has a lot of the espionage atmosphere in his stuff. There’s not enough time to read all the literary fiction I’d like to.

BOOKS: Did you read anything as a model for your own thriller?


SHACOCHIS: No, because every time you watch TV or a movie there’s the model. My idea was to twist and mutilate the model to make it more distinctive. So my murder mystery quickly becomes an espionage thriller and then becomes a daddy-daughter book.

BOOKS: Have you read any other daddy-daughter books?

SHACOCHIS: Kathryn Harrison’s “The Kiss.” Kathryn was my independent-study student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. We would meet in a diner to discuss her story, and each time she would break into tears. I thought I must be a real jerk to make this woman cry every week. Then at the end of the semester she told me the reason she’d been so emotional was that she was sleeping with her dad. I said, “Thank God. I thought it was me.’’

BOOKS: What books do you assign in your nonfiction seminar at Florida State University?

SHACOCHIS: I don’t assign any. Just give them a list. The five top books are “My Traitor’s Heart” by Rian Malan about South Africa, “Dispatches” by Michael Herr, “The Writing Life” by Annie Dillard, “Running in the Family” by Michael Ondaatje, and “The Boys of My Youth” by Jo Ann Beard.


BOOKS: How much nonfiction do you read?

SHACOCHIS: I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction in the past 10 years and am looking forward to reading Scott Anderson’s “Lawrence in Arabia” and George Packer’s “The Unwinding.” When I pick up a good book I won’t do anything until I finish it. I knew I could never hold a regular job because books just had their claws into me too much.

BOOKS: Could you read while you were reporting wars?

SHACOCHIS: No, but I was stupid enough to drag around 10 or 15 books. Life was just too fast and furious. However the soldiers would read at night. Soldiers like care packages with books and tonic-water bottles their wives emptied and filled with vodka.

BOOKS: Did you read while you were in the Peace Corps?

SHACOCHIS: There are two classes of readers that are the best readers ever, sailors and ex-pats, like Peace Corps volunteers. Any serious sailboat is packed with books. I learned that in the Caribbean. Then Peace Corps volunteers might have a grass mat to sleep on, a little Bunsen burner to cook soup on, a toothbrush, and like 50 books.


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