Profound truths about writing


Title: The Paris Review Interviews, I

By: Philip Gourevitch (introduction)

The Paris Review interviews – long, intimate conversations with the leading writers of the age about their craft, their reading, their work habits – began to appear in 1953, and over half a century these encounters have become as essential to literature as the work of the interviewees themselves.

The latest collection of interviews is called The Paris Review Interviews: Vol. 1, and is part of a proposed three-volume collection of the best Paris Review interviews. The surprise here is that it is not the luminaries – TS Eliot, Jorge Luis Borges, Saul Bellow – who speak the most interestingly, but some of the lesser-known figures.

The best and most educative interview by far is the one with the Knopf and former New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb on “The Art of Editing”. Not only does Gottlieb talk illuminatingly about all the good things an editor can do for a writer, but many of the writers he edited – Toni Morrison, John le Carre, Joseph Heller, Michael Crichton – pitch in with their experiences of having their manuscripts vetted by him. The whole thing reads like a very good play, with the characters supplying profound truths about writing rather than life.

And the warmest and funniest presence in the book is the screenwriter Billy Wilder (The Apartment, Some Like It Hot) reminiscing about his days as an immigrant and an apprentice screenwriter in Hollywood. This is a book full of attractive voices.