Awarded the 2015 Jesse H. Jones Award for fiction from the Texas Institute of Letters
Named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Fiction Books of 2014
Reading Group Choices - Elizabeth Crook Interview
Elizabeth Crook (The Night Journal
) reveals why she dropped a speed- reading course in college ... In
this month's 1-On-One!
Is it possible to be a good writer without being a good reader?
I hope so. I’m one of those people you see in the airport moving their lips. I took a speed-reading course in college but was advised to drop it before it demolished my GPA. So….I select books carefully. And put them down if I don’t like them. And after years of bluffing through conversations about books I haven’t read, I’ve finally come clean and started admitting, “Nope, never read it.” “Heard of it. Never read it.” “Would love to, but never read it. Haven’t a clue what it’s about.” I read my first Trollope this year. Haven’t read any Jane Austen, but will. (Did read The Jane Austin Book Club, and loved that.) Managed to make my way through most of the Brontes and quite a few of Dickens’ in high school. The good news is, when I’ve finished a book, I’ve earned it. It belongs to me intrinsically. Skimming is out of the question, so every word makes an impression. Not only have I read it, I’ve basically read it aloud. Having heard the words as well as seen them, I feel in touch—if it isn’t too sappy to say so—with the heartbeat of the book. The rhythm. This, I think, has been a great gift to me as a writer.
Have you ever belonged to a reading group?
No, but I love talking with reading groups. When I finished writing The Night Journal, I had the queasy feeling of walking away from characters I’d lived with, and had my morning coffee with, for ten years. That seemed to be it for them. Fin. Je suis terminé. Vaya con Dios. But then I discovered that talking with book clubs gave me another glimpse at these characters. Having spent a decade presiding over their lives, it’s strangely exhilarating to sit around discussing their bad habits and choices and redeeming aspects. It reconnects me with them.
What books are you reading now or do you plan to read?
I’m about to finish Corrections by Johnathan Franzen. Next on my list are books recently published by some of my friends here in Austin: Sarah Bird’s Flamenco Academy, Larry Wright’s The Looming Tower, and Greg Curtis’ The Cave Painters.
Favorite book when you were a child?
My mother read to my brother and sister and me nightly, for hours, long after we could read for ourselves. It was the best time of our day and often cantankerous, as you might imagine with three kids of different ages all relating to stories differently. My mother usually had a book going for each of us, but we listened in on each other’s. I especially loved historical stories: Caddie Woodlawn, The Bronze Bow, everything by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Old Yeller and Savage Sam by Fred Gipson, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Roller Skates, Five Little Peppers, Blue Willow, Little Women, The Colt from Moon Mountain, and Thee, Hannah. The list could go on forever, but these are the books that come to mind as my great loves from childhood.
Favorite heroine in literature and why?
That’s hard to say. But recently I did love Lizzie Eustace in The Eustace Diamonds. She is not admirable, she’s frivolous. But Trollope exposes her worst qualities with so much humor and tolerant affection that the reader can’t help but like her. It’s clear that Trollope does.
Favorite first line from a book?
It’s from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, and it’s actually several lines. “When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake—not a very big one. It had probably just been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs. They were having a fine tug-of-war with it, and its rattling days were over. The sow had it by the neck, and the shoat had the tail.
“You pigs git,” Augustus said, kicking the shoat. “Head on down to the creek if you want to eat that snake.” ……
Words to live by?
My father once gave me an old pewter book-stand with a quotation hammered into the pewter along the front: “CHOOSE AN AUTHOR AS YOU CHOOSE A FRIEND.” I keep it by my desk.