Tom Grimes is
the author of five novels, a play and Mentor:
A Memoir. He edited The Workshop:
Seven Decades from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and currently directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Texas
State University. T.C. Boyle calls Mentor "One of the truest accounts of a writer's life--of two writers'
lives--I've yet seen." Mentor (Tin House Books, August 1, 2010) won a
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award.
On your nightstand now:
Occasionally, I read several books bit
by bit, rather than a single book straight through. I pick up the one whose
music matches the signal in my mind at any given time, the way music sounds
clearest when you find a radio station's perfect frequency. At the moment I'm
reading Roddy Doyle's new novel, The Dead Republic; Annie Proulx's Fine
Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories Three; and rereading Ralph Ellison's Invisible
Man, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's
Children and Roberto Bolano's 2666.
Favorite book when you were a child:
I really dug Paddington the Bear
books, I don't know why. He walked on his hind legs, wore a hat and carried a
suitcase, I believe, and he always seemed to be getting on a train to go
someplace. Maybe I identified with, or projected onto him, his desire to leave
Your top five authors:
"The hysteria of lists" is
what Don DeLillo calls these inquiries. A top five list is arbitrary and
continually mutating; at least, mine is. But I know DeLillo said what he said
because he's a top fiver. Tim O'Brien is, too. (Both happen to be friends, but
those relationships evolved after they had entered my pantheon.) I can't answer
this question easily because I love Anna Karenina but really can't get
into War and Peace. And I love Crime and Punishment, but have
trouble staying with some of Dostoevsky's novels, although I've read The
Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. I like early Hemingway, but not
later Hemingway, other than A Moveable feast. I like The Great Gatsby,
but nothing else by Fitzgerald. Edith Wharton: I know, where did she come from?
But I love The House of Mirth. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice but
not Persuasion. Toni Morrison's first three novels, but none of the
rest. About half of García Márquez's work. George Orwell, although he doesn't
seem like someone I would name as a top five, but 1984 and Animal
Farm are amazing. And Lolita may be my favorite book of all time; but
only that book by Nabokov, not the rest of his work. This is more than five, I
know. I cheated. Sorry.
Book you've faked reading:
Probably The Canterbury Tales: I
just couldn't take the Middle English.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Book you've bought for the cover:
I can't think of one, so this means I
never did, or I have a very bad memory. It's a toss-up.
Book that changed your life:
The Sun Also Rises made me want to be a writer. But, as I
write in my memoir, what I really wanted was to live Jake Barnes's life in
Paris--sleeping late, hardly working, drinking in cafes. But until my freshman
composition teacher explained a not-so-minor problem when I first read the book
for his class, I didn't realize that Jake was impotent. Somehow, that went
right over my head. Still, years later, I went to Paris, first as a barely
published writer, and then as fairly well published one. When I was in Paris
last winter to promote a new book I had published, I walked past Hemingway's
old apartment building and through the Luxembourg Gardens. But Paris is no
longer a place where an American writer can live on very little money, or feel
like an expatriate. One is simply another tourist. Nevertheless, whenever I
reread The Sun Also Rises, the romantic illusion of that place and time
once again comes alive.
Favorite line from a book:
The first line of 1984: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
White Noise by Don Delillo. Years ago, I reread it
so many times that I no longer get past its first sentence.
Do you research while you're writing a book?
For my novel City of God, one
character was a district attorney, so I needed to know how she did her job in
order to make her credible. For my novel Season's End, I was lucky
enough to travel with the New York Mets baseball team. I was allowed into the
locker room and, by sitting around and not asking players direct questions,
like a reporter, they gradually began to say hi. Some players talked to me about
hitting, pitching, fielding and having old friends ask them for money. A few
let me read their fan mail--everyone wanted something from them. And once, I
was asked to settle a dispute. After discussing how to end a feud between two
players on the team, one of the guys sitting at a locker room table turned and
said, "What do you think?" For Mentor: A Memoir, most of the
book, of course, was recollection. But I did reread all of Frank Conroy's
books, especially his memoir Stop-Time, to see how he remained detached
and objective, yet fully in the moment, while writing about his past.
Will you ever stop writing?
I don't think so, although, from now
on, I'll only write books that seem, to me, absolutely necessary. Otherwise, I'll
remain vigilant, but silent.