By Helen McIver
After I reviewed Paula McLain’s new book The Paris Wife earlier this year, one of my book clubs decided to read her novel. I was volunteered to do the “Author Review” that normally accompanies a book we read. Having already delved back into Hemingway, I was more than ready. However I decided to add something extra: I contacted her and asked if she would answer a few questions about her reading habits. She decided which questions she had time to answer, and we ended up with a few more books to read!
Paula McLain was born in Fresno, CA in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of foster homes for the next 14 years. Eventually, she discovered she could – and wanted to – write. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and since then has been a resident at Yaddo and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is the author of two collections of poetry, a much-praised memoir called Like Family, and one previous and well-received novel, A Ticket to Ride. Paula McLain lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her family. Visit her website, www.pariswife.com.
Helen McIver: Do you remember the last time you said to someone, “You really must read this book now?” and the book was? Are you part of a book club?
Paula McLain: I haven’t been in a book club for years and years, but when I speak with book clubs or go into local Indy book stores, I’ll always ask for glowing recommendations. Recently I found Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic that way, and also Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. Loved them both
Helen McIver: What is your favorite line from a book?
Paula McLain: From Willa Cather’s My Antonia: “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”
Helen McIver: A recent Book you bought just for the cover?
Paula McLain: Amor Towles’, Rules of Civility. Isn’t that a great looking cover?
Helen McIver: Have you heard any good books lately? Driving? In an airplane? Did you choose the reader of your book? Did you like the audio version of your book?
Paula McLain: I just listened (yesterday!) to Ian McEwan’s Saturday, which was terrific. I love him and also loved, lately, his On Chesil Beach, which I also got as a book on tape. In general, I love to be read to.
I had a lot of trouble with the casting for the audio for Paris Wife. None of the actors they liked sounded like Hadley to me, including the one who actually was chosen. Maybe no one would have pleased me, though, since I had a strong “Hadley” voice in my head for years, which I just wasn’t going to hear again out in the world, if you know what I mean.
Helen McIver: Do you have a genre to beach read?
Paula McLain: Lord, I wish I had time to read on the beach. Oh, and a beach to read on!
Helen McIver: Do you have a favorite literary adaptation on TV or film? Is there something coming out you can’t wait (Hemingway?!)
Paula McLain: There’s a great BBC production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion that I HEART and have watched maybe fifty times….
Helen McIver: What book is on your nightstand?
Paula McLain: Rules of Civility.
Helen McIver: Paper or electronic? Do you take notes?
Paula McLain: Electronic, always. I take lots of notes, some of which I actually find again!
Helen McIver: Is music important to your writing? (Do you listen to music when you write? When you read? Do you incorporate songs into your work that have “hidden” meaning or help set the tone?)
Paula McLain: I have to listen to music, and keep my iPhone tuned to Pandora, on a sound dock for my whole working day. Usually something low-key and croon-y. I like whispery male singer-songerwriter types like Bon Iver……
Helen McIver: What were your most cherished books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero / heroine from one of those books?
Paula McLain: Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers, tons of Roald Dahl.
Helen McIver: Is there one book you wish all children would read?
Paula McLain: Watership Down – those rabbits!
Helen McIver: Is there one book you would like adults to read?
Paula McLain: Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. A lot, there, about the act of storytelling. Why we tell stories and what they mean to our lives.
Helen McIver: Do you tend to keep books, lend them out or give them away?
Paula McLain: I horde them and lend the ones I feel evangelical about.
Helen McIver: Any guilty reading pleasures?
Paula McLain: People Magazine in airports! Ooh, and I love food magazines and cook books: essentially food porn!