RJS: I think we fogged up some computer screens with our last conversation. We’re talking about author love this week, but not necessarily the get-all-steamy-and-tangled-in-the-sheets kind, right?
LH: Right. This is about the I’d-like-to-touch-your-brain-in-a-non-fatal-way love we have for writers.
RJS: So, start at the beginning? What was the first book that made you swoon for the writer?
LH: My first author crush was Agatha Christie. I read And Then There Were None when I was eight, and was HOOKED – I immediately read all her other books. And for a few months, I got this idea in my head, because I loved her books so much and because she and I both loved ancient Egypt, that I actually was her. When I told my mom that I was the reincarnation of Agatha Christie, she pointed out that Agatha died seven months before I was born. I answered that it had taken that long for her spirit to find me…Goodness grape juice, I was a weird kid. Yours?
RJS: I think I was late to the author love thing. I’ve always been an avid reader, but I never really fell for a writer until I read Henry James in high school. These days, I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was that did it for me, but back then, he left me breathless and insatiable. Then came John Irving (he still does it for me, in the I-want-to-touch-your-brain way and the other, naughtier way–I just think he looks like he knows some things). And then there was Toni Morrison. Now, there is still Toni Morrison. Reading her is like going to church for me. I’m not sure there’s anywhere to go after you fall for her. Any author crushes you’ll never get over? Or ones you’re embarrassed to own up to now?
LH: We would be here for weeks if I named all the authors I have crushes on – chances are, if I love your book, I love you. Authors are my rock stars. But the most prominent ones? I am obsessed with David Mitchell (but if he goes missing I will deny I said that). When Kevin Brockmeier did an event at the store, I thought I would faint every time he talked to me, which would have been mortifying. I have forever loved Margaret Atwood, and Matthew Sharpe makes my brain spinny. And there’s an author who comes in RiverRun – he is so amazing that when I see him coming, I run and hide in the back. Although, one time, I was unable to flee because my coworker was in the way, so I just dropped to the floor and hid behind the counter. He just makes me so nervous! I’m worried I will ask him, “How are you today?” but it will come out “MAY I LICK YOUR FACE?”
RJS: Do you think there’s a distinction between author love (it’s lasting) and author crushes (more fleeting)?
LH: I guess that everything I have is author love, because I don’t usually stop thinking they’re wonderful, once I start.
RJS: For me, it happens in degrees. I’ve had author crushes ranging from the butterflies-and-racing-thoughts of “Oooh, I think I like you” all the way to, “Oh my God, you’re standing behind me in the coffee line at BEA and I’m so excited I can’t make myself say hello” (coughNancyPearlcough). Now that I think about it, my author love is pretty permanent, too. I don’t think I’ve ever broken up with an author. It would take something monumentally bad–or multiple sorta-bad somethings–to make that happen.
LH: Yeah, I would totally get an Elizabeth McCracken tattoo – she does no wrong. Or John Banville – I would take a bullet for John Banville (although I’d rather not). But even when authors I love do publish books I don’t enjoy, I still love them, because they’ve brought so much happiness to my brain.
RJS: What about if you find out an author you love has behaved badly? Or has deplorable opinions about social issues? I usually try to separate the person from the work, but I’ve been thinking lately about what kind of bad non-literary action it would take to make me stop reading an author I’ve loved.
LH: I can’t think of an example where I’ve stopped reading an author because of their behavior. I have been surprised by the way a few of them behave, but reading their book is like watching them act. What they do in their personal lives is off-screen. I don’t know: Do you think people stopped reading Mailer when he stabbed his wife, or do you think the event caused a spike in the sales of his books?
RJS: Sales spike, fo sho. People probably strutted about in their righteous indignation at dinner parties then all drove home to read him in private. Maybe they drove to the bookstore in the next town over so they wouldn’t be spotted? I sort of like the idea of people going on the D.L. to buy books. If I had any shame, I might do that. But it’s too late–my booksellers already know all my dirty reading secrets.
LH: Yeah, a bookseller or librarian has the reading goods on everyone. So, getting back to author love, name three authors you would love to meet (assuming you can keep from shrieking like a fangirl).
RJS: I managed not to squeal at Margaret Atwood (or try to put her in my pocket), so I’m gonna go all out here and start with Toni Morrison. Also Pam Houston, who is so good she reduces me to cheesy puns, and, uh, Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451 was the first book that really changed my life. Can I assume your list starts with Agatha Christie?
LH: Oh, I meant living authors (I would totally hang with Zombie Agatha Christie, though). So, let’s see: David Mitchell, because he’s effing brilliant, and I promise-promise not to touch him. Sarah Waters, because she is so amazing – I have a quote from The Little Stranger tattooed on my forearm. (“What a punishing business it is simply being alive.”) And Donna Tartt, because I have read The Secret History once a year since it came out: That book wallpapers the walls of my happy place.
RJS: Can I add a couple? I ditto your Donna Tartt (wow, that sounds frisky), and I can’t leave Paul Murray out because Skippy Dies was fantastic and he looks like the missing Weasley brother. Okay. I’m done. For now.
LH: No, the question was three! There will be a punishment for your insubordination. (But I’d like to lick Paul Murray’s face, totes.)
We’re going to stop there before we say anything else admissible in a court of law. Join us next week when we discuss books that made us cry like babies!
But first: Who are your author crushes?