Raised amid devotion, a novelist feels pull of the spiritual
Roland Merullo got a relatively late start as a writer, but more than made up for lost time. The Revere native has published 14 books, including his most recent novel, “The Talk-Funny Girl.’’ Merullo, who lives in Western Massachusetts, will speak at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square on Thursday at 6 p.m.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
MERULLO: I tend to read four or five books at the same time. I like to read spiritual books and psychological books. So I’m rereading “Intimacy with God’’ by the monk Thomas Keating. Also “A Psychotherapy of Love’’ by John Firman and Ann Gila. I just bought “The Last Lecture’’ by Randy Pausch. I’m not taken with the first couple of chapters. I’m also reading Bill Bryson’s “Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’’ and a novel by a friend of mine, “Fighting in the Shade’’ by Sterling Watson.
BOOKS: How long have you read that many books at once?
MERULLO: The last 15 years. Before we had kids I’d tended to read a book more from start to finish and to read more fiction.
BOOKS: Why less fiction now?
MERULLO: It’s like if you are a magician and you go to a magic show, you already know the tricks. I’ve gotten much pickier. It’s not that I wanted this to happen.
BOOKS: How did you switch to your reading system?
MERULLO: It evolved over time. When I taught at Bennington and Amherst, with a couple of literature courses you have to read two or three books at the same time. That was maybe the turning point. It can take me months to finish a book. I read very slowly. The more I like a book the more slowly I read it. I don’t want to rip through a book. That to me is like rushing through a nice meal with a friend that you are having this great conversation with.
BOOKS: Did you read much when you were in the Peace Corps?
MERULLO: It’s very sad. I was on a tiny atoll in Micronesia. The mail came once every couple of months on a ship. I mailed myself a box of books before I left. It never arrived. I was stuck out there with one book I had filched from the Peace Corps office on the main island. I don’t remember what the book was, but I probably read it three times.
BOOKS: Were the members of your family readers?
MERULLO: In some ways. My mother’s mother, who was British, memorized long poems. She was in a wheelchair for long parts of her life. I remember being in their home in Revere and listening to her recite these poems in her beautiful accent.
BOOKS: When did you get interested in the spiritual and psychological books?
MERULLO: Probably by age 8. I don’t think I was reading books at that age, but the subject interested me. I come from a very devout Catholic family, truly spiritual people. That interest continued in college. I was a Russian studies major. Dostoevsky was my main interest, and he’s all about that stuff. Since, it’s gotten stronger and broader. It’s not just Christian literature. I consider Walt Whitman a spiritual writer.
BOOKS: Do you have favorites in this genre?
MERULLO: “The Primal Wound,’’ another book by Firman and Gila, “The Inner Life’’ by Sufi writer Inayat Kahn, Thomas Merton’s journals, and “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’’ by James Agee. As far as novels go, a book I read fairly recently, “Hotel Du Lac’’ by Anita Brookner. Robert Stone is someone whose books I really love. My favorite is “A Flag for Sunrise.’’ Despite what I said about fiction earlier, I find that nothing takes the place of reading a great novel. Take the best nonfiction book and put that next to a great novel, a great novel wins every time.
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