|photo: Ruth Wright Paulsen
Gary Paulsen, perhaps best known for his vivid stories of wilderness survival, won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for his "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature." He has written more than 200 books for adults and young people, and is the author of three Newbery Honor medalists: Dogsong, Hatchet and The Winter Room. His short novel Six Kids and a Stuffed Cat, about six kids stuck in a school restroom during a severe storm alert, was released by Simon & Schuster on May 10, 2016. Paulsen divides his time between New Mexico, Alaska and a boat on the Pacific.
On your nightstand now:
Son of the Morning Star, a biography of Custer by Evan S. Connell. I spent several days and nights at the Custer battlefield in Montana to try to understand what had happened to those guys on both sides. I had been thinking about writing about Custer, but it turns out that this is a better book than what I had in mind. It's wonderfully researched.
Favorite book when you were a child?
The very first book I ever read. A librarian handed it to me. I have no memory of the story whatsoever, but I have never loved a book more than I do that one because it is the book that turned me on to reading. I was such an awful reader. I'd struggle through a page, word by word, and have no idea what I'd just read and have to go back, over and over again on the same page to make sense of the letters, the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, the ideas, the dance with words.
Your top five authors:
Patrick O'Brian, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Ernest K. Gann and Shakespeare. That's six, I know. But I read these guys over and over years apart and find new things to appreciate and admire about their writing and their storytelling each time. Their work can and has altered my life. I'm a different person after reading them.
Book you've faked reading:
Macbeth by William Shakespeare in high school. I had a rough idea of the story but could not get through the language. I had to read it in front of the class and I was mortally embarrassed, and they made fun of me. This is a school where now they have my name in the hall of fame, but I'll never go back. You don't forget something like that. Years later I read Macbeth alone and, of course, appreciated the magic of the story.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Fate Is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann. It's just got to be the best nonfiction book ever written, I mean, really. He was an early-day airline pilot, flying twin-engine prop planes that could go a limited distance and had a list of casualties as long as your arm. This book was about his life and planes, and I know that doesn't sound like much, but it's beautifully done and I must have read it four or five times.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian. I don't know the artist's name, but the painter does beautiful work, and the covers of all O'Brian's books evoke everything the books are about.
Book you hid from your parents:
I hid from my parents, full stop.
Favorite line from a book:
"Call me Ishmael."
It's just that when Melville wrote that, writers were taking three pages to describe a woman's dress and this was astonishingly brief. I felt this was just elegant, and reading it the first time made the hair on the back of my neck go up, it was so... perfect.
Five books you'll never part with:
Fate Is the Hunter by Ernest K. Gann, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester, and all of the Patrick O'Brian books. I've bought several copies of these books over the years because I've dog-eared the books by reading them over and over. I find that, when I am facing a rough or stressful situation, I revert back to these titles and they bring me out of myself and set me straight again. I have hardcover, paperback and e-book versions, and I have copies on my boat on the Pacific and at my ranch in New Mexico and at my dog kennels in Alaska, or at least I did until my place burned down. Actually, after I knew my dogs and my handler were safe, I thought about my books. Gone.
Book you most want to read again for the first time?
Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It was so complete. It's a book about whaling, metaphysics, the sea, survival, death... I don't even know how he did it, but it's an amazing book. I think I've read it 11, 12 times and I'm going to go read it again now that I've thought about it.