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    books as medicine

    Robert Stone, novelist

    Phyllis Rose

    Novelist Robert Stone has been penning, well-respected, award-winning books since he won the National Book Award in 1975 for “Dog Soldiers.” His latest novel, last year’s critically-acclaimed “Death of the Black-Haired Girl,” is not set in his usual exotic locales, but here in New England, where the long winters and gloomy weather is just the right setting for a tale of deception and soul-searching.

    BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

    STONE: A hilarious memoir by Don Wallace, “The French House.” Wallace and his wife, both American writers, impulsively bought an old wreck of a house on Belle Île, a remote island off the coast of Brittany. They not only had to fix up the house, but also learn the ways of their French neighbors. I’ve also been reading “The Shelf” by Phyllis Rose, an insightful account of what she terms “extreme reading.” She reads a shelf of authors whose last names begin with L. The book sounds goofy, but it’s not.


    BOOKS: What draws you to a book?

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    STONE: I like reading about foreign countries. A few months ago I was reading the first volume in Paul Scott’s “The Jewel in the Crown,” which is set in the final days of colonial India. It is a good long read for sleepless nights. I also read Katharine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” about a Bombay slum. That is a nonfiction book, but it stands halfway between fiction and nonfiction. I also read Kenneth Bonert’s historical novel “The Lion Seeker” about South Africa before World War II with great enjoyment. My reading lately has been mostly nonfiction.

    BOOKS: Why is that?

    STONE: I have always been a reader of history, and I believe that the best-written nonfiction is a better read than most fiction. Paradoxically, the best fiction can convey essential historical truths more effectively than nonfiction, in my opinion. These past few months I have been recovering from a couple of falls and broken bones. It’s been a rough year for me, and it put me in the mood to read books about war, mostly on my Kindle, which I can use with my one functioning arm. Among the books I read were “Catastrophe 1914” by Max Hastings, “Return of a King” by William Dalrymple, “Iron Curtain” by Anne Applebaum, and “Shiloh” by Winston Groom. My favorite was Applebaum’s because of her political insight into post-World War II Eastern Europe. The book is also well-written. I highly recommend Heda Margolius Kovaly’s memoir, “Under a Cruel Star,” which is about the same time period.

    BOOKS: Do you read a lot for research for your own books?


    STONE: Most of the books I read for research are not very interesting to general readers — books about religion for “Damascus Gate,” for instance. One book I would recommend, which I used in writing my Hollywood novel, “Children of Light,” is Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening.” In my novel the characters are making a film from the Chopin novel.

    BOOKS: What was the first book to have a big impact on you?

    STONE: I think the first book that really had any kind of impact on me would have been, gosh, “The Human Comedy” by William Saroyan. I read it in high school English class.

    BOOKS: Were there a lot of books in your household growing up?

    STONE: I grew up an only child with just my mother. She was a dedicated reader. She liked various kinds of poetry. She liked Longfellow’s poetry, like “The Song of Hiawatha” and “Evangeline,” kind of corny, seventh-grade sort of stuff. I probably mocked her some for that. She read to me, which is probably why I was an advanced reader in school.


    BOOKS: Has reading always played a big role in your life?

    ‘I believe that the best-written nonfiction is a better read than most fiction.’

    STONE: Well, that’s what really got me through the past few months. I think if I hadn’t been able to read I would have been in a bad way.


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