Best-selling nonfiction author Erik Larson says he reads to see how other writers do it but also to be enraptured, which he says makes him a terribly slow reader. He reads from his newest book, “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania,” Thursday March 12 at 7 p.m. at the First Parish Church in Cambridge. Tickets are $5 for the reading, which is sponsored by the Harvard Book Store.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
LARSON: I just started Kate Atkinson’s novel “Life After Life.” I’m also reading this funky book that a friend gave me, “Believers to the Bright Coast” by Vincent O. Sullivan. The principal character in this novel is based on the mistress of Dr. Crippen, the murderer I wrote about in “Thunderstruck.” I’m 50 pages into that and am thinking, maybe, been there, done that. I just finished “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, which I adored. The narrative is really creative. I also just finished “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, which I liked too. Everybody is calling it the next “Gone Girl,” but I don’t know about that.
BOOKS: Why do you read several books at once?
LARSON: Reading multiple books is like being an investor and hedging by investing in a number of bonds. If one book fails you still have the others to keep you going. There’s also a hierarchy to my reading. The real treats I reserve for post-dinner reading by the fire. Paradoxically the more I like a book the slower I read it. One of my favorite books is “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” by John Le Carré. I remembered rationing myself to 10 pages a night. I didn’t want it to stop. I read “Station Eleven” very slowly too.
BOOKS: What have you read for research that you would recommend?
LARSON: What yields the best stuff for me are the most boring books, like books by historians who can’t tell a story but are indefatigable in tracking down fine-grain detail. Some of those books transcend that barrier such as Ian Kershaw’s biography of Hitler. For my last book, I read and really delighted in Winston Churchill, whom I hadn’t even thought of as an author.
BOOKS: Do you read nonfiction for enjoyment too?
LARSON: In my nonworking life, I read almost exclusively fiction. I did love David Sedaris’s “Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls,” but is that really nonfiction? I read all of Bill Bryson’s books and will read any book by David McCullough. My favorite is “Mornings on Horseback” about the young Teddy Roosevelt. The one type of nonfiction book I won’t ever read is one about someone going to heaven. There’s always one on the best-seller list whenever one of my books is.
BOOKS: Do you read mostly contemporary fiction?
LARSON: Yes but on occasion I’m drawn back to older works that I love. I do that with Graham Greene and Hemingway. With Hemingway I always go back to the Nick Adams stories, “In Our Time.” I often reread what I think of as the finest short story every written, “Hills Like White Elephants.”
BOOKS: Are there any subjects or plot lines you avoid?
LARSON: I have three daughters. Novels that kill off a daughter are really hard for me. I avoid those like the plague. The poster child for me is Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones.” I sat down to read it, got in 20 pages, and felt ill. Not because of the writing.
BOOKS: Has your taste in fiction changed?
LARSON: Depends on how far back you go. I started with Nancy Drew when I was kid. I’ve always had a thing for detective fiction. Later in life, I’ve found myself moving toward richer, more varied subject matter like “This Is Where I Leave You” by Jonathan Tropper. Ten years ago I would have never read that. At this point I’m trying to get some additional perspective on life. It’s about time.
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