Thursday, July 17, 2014

Advice from an icon: read Hemingway

As an interviewer and reviewer, I try to remain reasonably objective, to approach things from a fresh and open-minded perspective and not play favourites. But let's be honest, there are books, people, issues and other things that we just connect with more, truly, not because of any skewed sense of agenda or wanting to be seen or thought of a particular way by people. And once we've had that connection, it does linger. Perhaps favouritism isn't a bad thing, if it's genuine, based on how we truly feel, rather than for other agendas. And as long as we're open to questioning things, if or when they change.

Amongst the many amazing people I've had the pleasure of interviewing for magazine and newspaper articles over the years, from sportspeople to politicians to human rights workers to entrepreneurs, I've interviewed more than 80 crime writers from around the world. I've enjoyed each interview, whether it was in front of a small library crowd, a large festival crowd, one-on-one over coffee or beers, over the phone, or over the Internet. Writers have passion, and are inspiring in that they create, they express themselves and put themselves out there. Regardless of success or acclaim, that takes courage. Something the world needs a lot more of, when so many muddle through life, distracted and 'busy'. Writers also create books, which have been a lifelong love affair of mine, so yeah, writers are some of my favourites to interview. Sorry I'm not sorry.

Like many, I don't like to pick favourites, as I guess there's that underlying feeling that by picking one thing over another, one awesome person over others, we are in some way diminishing the other people, as if to say they aren't as good (when in fact they're awesome too). Human nature to avoid things like that.

But deep down I know the truth. If someone was about to go all Sons of Anarchy or Game of Thrones gruesome death scene on me if I didn't spill my guts, it would take less than a second for me to take a stand and choose my favourite interviewee: James Lee Burke.

There are so many reasons I could give, but perhaps a snapshot of my most recent interview with the great man provides some insight: we chatted for more than an hour, and his then-latest book was mentioned for less than a few minutes of that. It was an interview timed for a book release, but we chatted about everything from the nature of war, social media as the modern Roman Coliseum, the Anzacs, art in genre writing, humanity, and so much more. Burke was engaging, intelligent, compassionate, and kind. I know his books aren't for everyone, but I am very glad that I enjoy them so much, and that I've been lucky enough to interview him over the phone a couple of times. His work, and he himself, resonate with me.

[Side note: I love the word 'resonate', as I think there's a genuineness and truth there. There's energy all around us, and some things just click with us more, deep down, we're on "the same wavelength". We should embrace that rather than hiding from it or mitigating it. Own who we are].

Anyway, the above longwinded, rather philosophical intro (yeah, I'm in that mood today) was inspired by an Esquire piece with Burke I read online this morning, where Burke recommends THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY as the book every man should read.

In the article (read in full here), Burke says:
"I know of no book that contains more information about the experience a man goes through before he attains knowledge about the world, himself, and the nature of courage. Hemingway was a great artist, but our fascination with him is the fact that, for good or bad, he was an emblematic figure whose life seemed to be a microcosm of all men. Hemingway learned that most rhetoric about war was largely made up by liars, men who try to erase the paucity of their own lives by creating suffering for others. He also learned that love was transcendent and that the world was a fine place and well worth the fighting."

So Burke is one of my favourites, and Hemingway is one of his, flaws and all. It might be time for me to read more Hemingway, as I continue my own journey learning about the world, myself, and courage.

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