Picks and Pans Review: Conversations with American Writers

updated 03/11/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/11/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Charles Ruas

The author had a New York radio show from 1974 to 1977 featuring conversations with well-known writers. He has since written for various magazines, and the results of his interviews have been put together in this diverting book. Since it may be several months before the next collection of interviews from the Paris Review gets into book form, Ruas' Conversations will have to tide over literary junkies. Gore Vidal gives a superb interview, as always, with such comments as "A writer is someone who writes, that's all. You can't stop it; you can't make yourself do anything else but that." Marguerite Young, who sometimes sounds as surreal as her novel, Miss Macintosh, My Darling, tells Ruas, "From the earliest infancy I memorized a verse or two of the Bible every day, the King James Version...It was the best training a writer could have." For Susan Sontag, the writer "has to be both the idiot who goes in there and takes out handfuls of raw whatever it is, fantasy, and also the tough editor who decides that's self-indulgent, that doesn't work, that's boring, that part should go here." Perhaps Robert Stone is the most ambitious. He wants his readers "to stop being themselves for the moment, I want them to stop thinking, and I want to occupy their heads." Other writers in this volume include Toni Morrison, Tennessee Williams (whining pitifully at his late-in-life failures), Eudora Welty, Norman Mailer, Paul Theroux, Joseph Heller, William Burroughs and Scott Spencer. They are a lively bunch, and Ruas knows how to provoke them into bright revelations. (Knopf, $17.95)

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