For David Grann, best-selling author and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, 2017 has been an exceptionally big year. His book “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” was published this spring. That was quickly followed by the US release of the film “The Lost City of Z,” based on his book of the same title about the early 20th-century British explorer and romantic, Percy Fawcett. “I tend to hibernate for 10 years and then do everything at once,” he says.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
GRANN: I love detective novels, but for some reason I’d never read Ross MacDonald’s novels. I’ve been going on a binge. I just read “The Blue Hammer” and “The Galton Case” and next up is “The Drowning Pool.” They are terrific. He’s the heir to Raymond Chandler, but they have a deep psychological quality.
BOOKS: When did you start reading detective novels?
GRANN: I guess “The Hardy Boys” probably doesn’t count. I loved stories with twists early on like “I Am the Cheese” by Robert Cormier, which has this twist at the end. I’m as much interested in how ordinary citizens are caught up in situations. You can see that in Eric Ambler’s spy novels.
BOOKS: What makes for a good twist or ending in your opinion?
GRANN: As I’ve gotten older, I have become much more comfortable with a lack of resolution. When you are younger you expect plots to be tight. There’s a book called “The Art of Political Murder” by Francisco Goldman. It’s a true crime story about a sinister killing in Guatemala of an archbishop who championed human rights. He did a great job of illuminating the case but allowing for its murkiness. When there’s too much of an O. Henry ending, you can have the feeling of, “Oh, this was authorially governed.”
BOOKS: Who are some of your favorite novelists?
GRANN: A novelist who I tend to read everything he does is T.C. Boyle. I recently read “The Harder They Come.” I thought that book did a good job of capturing a kind of fringe, right-wing narrative point-of-view in a very convincing way. One of my favorite novels of all time is “Seize the Day” by Saul Bellow. It’s the perfect little book, and it captures so much of the psyche of America.
BOOKS: What’s the last big book you made your way through?
GRANN: I am a slow reader and am a little bit daunted by big books. I also tend to be very behind on books because I’m slow. So a book I finally read last year was Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” I thought it was the most original American novel I had read in a long time. Often when I do research for my nonfiction I will read books for inspiration, even if they are only tangentially related. For “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which is set in a western landscape, I read a lot of Cormac McCarthy. I also read Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” It has the structure of three narrators. It gave me the inspiration of telling my book from three narrators.
BOOKS: Has the current political atmosphere influenced your reading?
GRANN: I have been obsessively reading newspapers, but it also caused me to retreat to literature, to find something that had more coherence and was an escape. Don Delillo is one of my favorite novelists. I read some of his earlier novels during the campaign.
BOOKS: What else did you read to escape?
GRANN: I just finished “Days of Rage” by Bryan Burrough about the late ’60s and ’70s, when there was so much violence. It feels as if you are reading about a century ago. I’m an obsessive re-reader partly because I do forget things. I was rereading Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and “The White Album.” The thing that stands out, and that brings you back, is her style. After talking about wanting to escape I’ve cited two books of the center coming undone.