“The majority of historians taken seriously are always heterosexual,” says the novelist and playwright, whose new book is “The American People: Volume 2.” “They wouldn’t know a gay person if they took him to lunch.”
What books are on your bedside table?
(The great teacher) “Stella Adler on the master playwrights of the United States”: Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, etc. “Kazan in direction”. I am writing a new work. But my bedside table is covered with medical equipment. I am recovering from a hip fracture. I don’t like reading in bed anyway.
What is the last great book you read?
“The Stranger” by Albert Camus.
Is there a classic novel that you read recently for the first time?
Can a great book be misspelled? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?
I hate writing badly, but this can be overlooked if I learn something from him.
What is a favorite book that nobody else has heard of?
“The blood of the lamb” by Peter De Vries. Talk about a book that can make you cry.
What writers – novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets – who work today admire more?
I have been writing a two-volume novel based on historical research on homosexuality and the plague of AIDS for several years and have come to appreciate a true library of writers, scientists, etc., etc. Tony Kushner, Laurie Garrett, Daniel Mendelsohn, John le Carré (I love spy stories!), James Ellroy (and complicated mysteries!), Anne Applebaum, Masha Gessen, Dr. Jacques Pépin, who wrote the classic ” The origins of AIDS, “Timothy Snyder in various burnt offerings.
What do you read when you are working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
When I write something, I tend to look for things that feed what I am working on. I include a lot of history and biography. Right now I am rereading Hannah Arendt a lot. I am never writing or reading something.
What is the last book you read that made you laugh?
This is a special topic for me. I love words and how they become beautiful. Two of my favorite authors are P. G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. I am constantly rereading them. Each is a brilliant writer with great skill with English words and language. No one writes a sentence like both. It makes me happy to laugh at witnessing this experience. I guess I should include my Yale classmate, Calvin Trillin, who is not far behind.
The last book you read that made you cry? Furious?
Anything about H.I.V./AIDS.
Did a book ever bring you to another person or get in between you?
My husband, David Webster, is an uninterrupted reader and is especially good at plotting, which I don’t. It’s great to get me out of the routine.
What is the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
Read Volume 2 of “The American People” and you will drown in them.
What topics do you want more authors to write about?
Gay history Most historians taken seriously are always heterosexual. They wouldn’t meet a gay person if they took him to lunch. A good example is Hamilton’s biography of Ron Chernow, which does not include the fact that he was gay and in love with George Washington. Gore Vidal pointed this out to me.
How do you organize your books?
What book might surprise people find on their shelves?
I have no idea. I have a big library
What is the best book you have received as a gift?
A first edition of the Sodom and Gomorrah section of “The memory of past things” by Proust.
What kind of reader were you as a child? What books and authors of childhood fit you best?
As a child, he was a voracious visitor to the main public library in Washington. I loved reading plays that Arena Stage performed across the street. The plays were more fun to read then. I also loved the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. Nancy was more fun.
How have your reading tastes changed over time?
What I like today is much broader in scope and quality. I appreciate good writing and I know what it is. This also applies to plays and spy thrillers. I love Michael Connelly and Patricia Highsmith.
Have you ever got into trouble reading a book?
Not to read one, but many times to write one. Gay writers who write about other gays are not exactly a winning audience. And gays are not the best buyers or readers of their own. In “Fagots”, I used my best friend for one of the main characters because he told jokes so good that I used. He never spoke to me again after the book came out.
What book would you raise to the canon and what book would you eliminate?
I have never been able to go through “Don Quixote” or “Moby-Dick” (even though Melville was gay).
What book would you recommend for the current political moment in the United States?
“It can’t happen here,” by Sinclair Lewis. It was published in 1935 during the height of fascism. In fact, it could be today. Very scary. Lewis’s wife, by the way, was the great journalist Dorothy Thompson. My brother was a volunteer helping her.
You are organizing a literary dinner. What three writers, alive or dead, do you invite?
P. G. Wodehouse, Edmund Wilson, Dostoyevsky.
What do you plan to read next?
“Jerome Robbins, by himself”; “The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando”, by William J. Mann; “Ecstasy and terror” by Daniel Mendelsohn.