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Bibliophiles

Russo: Novelist, fan of first books

Novelist Richard Russo said he gets - and reads -a lot of manuscripts. Novelist Richard Russo said he gets - and reads -a lot of manuscripts.
By Amy Sutherland
Globe Correspondent / October 9, 2011

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Richard Russo says that he and his wife live in Camden, Maine, but winter in Boston. So we can lay some claim to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. Free copies of his story “The Whore’s Child’’ are available around town as part of the Boston Book Festival’s One City One Story event. Russo will discuss the story at the festival on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Boston Public Library.

BOOKS: Does your reading change whether you are in Maine or in Boston?

RUSSO: The only thing that has changed, now that we have two locations, is whatever I want to read I have left in the other place. Also, as we get older, we have begun to buy books that we’ve forgotten that we already own. Strangely, both copies of a book will end up in the place that we aren’t when we want to read it.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

RUSSO: We go to Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks each September and just read. I read Tom Perrotta’s “The Leftovers.’’ I don’t usually like satire, but I always like Tom’s books. I also read a couple of books in manuscript. I get and read an enormous number of first novels.

BOOKS: Does that reading feel like work or pleasure?

RUSSO: Depends on how good it is. When the books aren’t so good I find myself, especially as I get older, resentful. I start thinking I was going to reread Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit’’ and the reason that I can’t is I’m reading this. A couple years ago, the novelist Russell Banks told me he was reading the ancient Greek historian Herodotus. I asked why. He said, ‘‘Because I’ve always wanted to and am tired of having my reading assigned.’’ I thought it was a marvelous declaration of independence.

BOOKS: Are there any books that have languished on your to-read list forever?

RUSSO: Like every human being who’s interested in literature, I have to say “The Brothers Karamazov’’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I mean has anybody ever read that book front to back? I bogged down one time in the middle and another time somewhere else. I’ve also never quite been equal to “Middlemarch’’ by George Eliot too. I get about to the same place every time. Everybody tells me if you get one chapter beyond that you can’t put it down, but I can’t get there.

BOOKS: Did you read during the summers you worked with your dad on the road crews in New York while you were in college?

RUSSO: Yes. It was a way of balancing those two radically different worlds. My dad had this rock hard body and would work 12- to 13-hour days. The guys he worked with were scrap-iron guys. Nobody on that road crew had read a book in 10 years, but there was something about the way they lived I really admired. Yet reading was a way of not entirely losing the person who I would be when I returned to school.

BOOKS: Did you ever go through a phase when you didn’t read much?

RUSSO: About 15 years ago I went though a period of a year or so when I just couldn’t find anything good. My wife noticed I was having trouble reading menus. I bought some cheap reading glasses in a drug store. I got home and suddenly all these books that weren’t good were good.

BOOKS: What are you reading next?

RUSSO: The galleys of a new book by a favorite writer, “The Great Northern Express’’ by Howard Frank Mosher. I just started it last night and already am halfway through. There’s not an iota of pretension in any sentence yet it’s not simple, just appears simple. After that, I’ve got a stack of galleys that piled up while I was on Martha’s Vineyard. And then there’s “Little Dorrit,’’ not to mention “Middlemarch.’’

AMY SUTHERLAND

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