Good to Know
In our interview, Keeble shared some fun facts about himself:
"I am a bit of a soccer addict, and I'm a big fan of the U. S. National team, who I think will win the world cup by 1214. My favorite team is Southampton, where my family is from."
"I was a gardener in the South of France for two years. Actually, I just cut things down and burned them. Therefore, I know how to make large fires using large amounts of gasoline."
"I speak fluent French, but this does not mean Parisians are nice to me."
"I love to play piano, especially blues, but usually only in the privacy of my own home."
"I run every day."
"I love North America and have a dream of living in some East Coast converted farmhouse looking out at the snow. I blame ‘Charlie Brown' cartoons for this fantasy."
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In the fall of 2003, Jim Keeble took some time to talk with us about some of his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I cringed, I yelped, I cursed. This book struck a chord, as I think it did for many men in encapsulating how useless the male species can be when it comes to matters of the heart. It had a very personal resonance for me, as I was going through a relationship breakup at the time. It also inspired me and liberated me as a writer -- it showed how a man can write about men's emotions in a tender and believable way. I thought, "Maybe I can just write about the way I feel, rather than the way I think." High Fidelity is also a very funny book, and it's set just down the road from where I live.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?The Shipping News by Annie Proulx -- A beautifully poetic book, I loved every line for its surprising use of word and rhythm. I loved the characters, all of them flawed, all of them deeply moral. And I loved the Newfoundland setting -- I've traveled a lot in the Arctic, but I've never quite made it to St. John's. One day I will take that ferry to the rock, this book in hand.
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje -- Another beautifully poetic novel, dealing with the emergence of one of my favorite cities, Toronto. I love the way Ondaatje writes -- he is immensely lyrical without being cloying.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby -- See above. He's a funny, tender, human writer, and I forgive him for being an Arsenal fan.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac -- I read this at the age of 15. It was the first book I read that left me feeling exhilarated. It made me want to get a backpack and hit the road. Which a year later, at the age of 16, I did. I backpacked around Europe with another friend. I've no idea why our parents let us go, but I thank them for it. I grew up that summer.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen -- What can I say? An epic novel, but one, like High Fidelity, that made me squirm. It seemed to capture a lot of where the Western world is at the moment, as a backdrop to a family story that was in many ways timeless. This novel made me far more ambitious to write something against a big backdrop. I kept wondering, reading it, whether what I was feeling was what Russians felt reading War and Peace when it was first published.
L'Etranger by Albert Camus -- I studied French at university, and admire many of the 19th- and early-20th-century French novelists. I'd read L'Etranger in high school and became, for a few weeks, an ardent existentialist. Camus's style was so concise, so wonderfully dry, yet punctuated with flashes of cutting light (God, I sound like a high school essay). I think I still carry some of Meursault with me.
Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier -- Again I read this book in high school, and in contrast to Camus, it inspired the romantic in me. The tale of a romantic loner, it is a great love story, as well as depicting a rural life that is undoubtedly unreal but remarkably seductive.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving -- What an amazing book. A typically joyous read from one of my favorite authors. I love the character of Owen, the pint-sized moralist. Having been raised in a Christian family, turned my back on church in my teens, and rediscovered a sense of belief in my late 20s, this book feels highly personal to me. I feel a strong affinity with the narrator. But it's Owen himself who dominates. He would probably be my No. 1 fictional character to meet for an espresso.
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels -- One of the most lyrical novels I've ever read. Michaels is also a renowned poet, and the beauty of her language is breathtaking. It's also a wonderful tale of healing, and a lovely depiction of a father-son relationship.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis -- This was my favorite book when I was little. It was the first book that made me imagine. I reread it so many times and still got a thrill from the first time they go through the wardrobe into Narnia. This book makes me want to have children, if only to read it with them.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- I'm a huge Paul Newman fan; I guess I like the moralistic loner with a sense of humor. I loved the buddy element -- Butch and Sundance are, in my opinion, the greatest cinema double-act.
Cool Hand Luke -- Easily Paul Newman's best film; why he didn't get an Oscar is unfathomable. The scene in which he plays the banjo, knowing he will never see his mother again, is heartbreaking.
It's a Wonderful Life -- Okay, I'll admit, I can get a little sentimental, especially around Christmastime. I love Jimmy Stewart -- how did he get to be a leading man? I love the ambition of this film.
Magnolia -- An epic. I saw this on a freezing January afternoon, in Maryland. I was the only one in the theater. I sat, open-mouthed. At the end I walked out, not knowing if I'd seen the greatest or the worst film ever made. But it refused to leave me. The way Anderson pushes us into each of his numerous characters' lives is exhausting but incredibly enlightening.
Withnail and I -- Okay, it's a cliché, but I still watch Richard E. Grant whimpering, "But my wife's having a baby" and howl. As quirky as they come.
Fight Club -- One big cinematic rush. It was one of the most powerful pieces of cinema I'd seen in a long while. And I now believe that Brad Pitt can act.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I can't listen to any music while I'm writing. I find I respond to music in a very emotional way, and this interferes with my emotional connection to my characters.
I'm an eclectic, when it comes to music, which perhaps indicates a lack of any coherent musical taste.
I like dance music -- Groove Armada, Fatboy Slim, Basement Jaxx. I like rock-pop -- Radiohead, Coldplay, the White Stripes, the Strokes (especially when I'm running). I like old Prince, new Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Bruce Springsteen ballads, and most things by Van Morrison, apart from that skiffle and country rubbish.
I like blues, especially piano -- John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, B. B. King, and Scott Joplin. I like certain classical pieces, in particular, Beethoven's Fifth and anything by Elgar (it makes me miss England, even when I'm in England).
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
I would be reading How to Be Good by Nick Hornby -- his deepest novel, and one which, I think, raises the most pertinent and difficult questions of our age.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I love to give cookbooks, with lavish photos, because few people buy these for themselves, and there's always a chance someone will cook me dinner as a thank-you. In a similar way, I tried giving The Joy of Sex a few years back but sadly got very little response.
I like getting novels people recommend as gifts. Not only is this a great way of expanding my knowledge of authors, it also gives an insight into the person who gave the book. If they give you The Collected Wisdom of George W. Bush you know one thing. If they give you A Quick Guide to the Marquis de Sade you know something else.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
At the moment I don't write at a desk, I write with my laptop on my lap. I like to start writing at the same time each day, about 9:15 a.m. and write through till 12:30-1:00 p.m. I will have a coffee to start me off. Ideally, I'll then write from about 2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m., then go for a run. Running is vital for me -- it gets me out of the house, I keep fit (I play a lot of soccer and tennis), I see how the trees are doing in the park, and I get some of my best thoughts in the middle of a four-mile run. The only problem is remembering them upon my return. I need a Dictaphone or something, except that I'm usually breathless and ready to die halfway round.
What are you working on now?
A novel called The A to Z of Love. It's a comic relationship novel that poses that eternal question: Can a man and woman ever just be friends?
Many writers in the Discover program are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I have wanted to write a novel since I was nine years old. I wrote one when I left college, whilst I was a gardener in the South of France. It was called A Journey with Mr. Wolf, and it was rejected by every publisher in London. I have 30 rejection letters in one of my drawers. For some reason it didn't get me down. I think just finishing it was my biggest satisfaction, and in some ways it got out a good number of the literary pretensions I'd adopted following my literature degree. I took up travel writing, and seven years later wrote a travel book, before writing Men and Other Mammals.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be -- and why?
George W. Bush. I think he would make a great science fiction writer for our time, a 21st-century Philip K. Dick. Actually, I lie. I would like Mark Haddon to be discovered, although I think he already has been, for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The voice of his autistic protagonist, Christopher, is unique, tender, frightening, endearing, and darkly funny.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Keep writing. The strange thing I find about writing is that it is a bit like an Olympic sport. You have to keep training, even on days you don't feel like it. And don't be afraid to throw stuff out. I think Nabokov said the writer's best friend is the wastepaper basket. In many ways, nothing you write is wasted, even the stuff that gets thrown out. Especially the stuff that gets thrown out.
In the summer of 2004, we asked authors featured in Meet the Writers to give us a list of their all-time favorite summer reads, and tell us what makes them just right for the season. Here's what Jim Keeble had to say:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy -- Get it for bragging rights by the pool, but it's actually a fabulous read. Great story, great characters, and it's always nice to read about frozen Russian winters on the beach.
The Beach by Alex Garland -- An entertaining thriller, set on... a beach. Funny
as well about backpackers and their pretensions.
Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje -- A beautiful, languid, powerful novel about
love and death during the Civil War in Sri Lanka. It's a sultry book -- ideal for summer.
Underworld by Don DeLillo -- I read it on a beach in Thailand -- you need a week straight to get through it, but the Brooklyn summer beginning sets a vacation mood.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. Another epic, another
steamy love story. Marquez's magical realism seems best suited to long hot summer nights.
The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson -- A fabulous travel book as the author follows childhood summer journeys around America. It will have you laughing out loud -- Bryson's first is easily his best.
Our Side of the House by Michael Kerr -- A little known Irish writer pens a fantastic account of his happy childhood growing up in Northern Ireland in midst of 'The Troubles'. It goes to show you can be happy and human at the
worst of times -- a great, funny antidote to anything by Dave Pelzer.
A Room with a View by E. M. Forster -- A wonderfully funny, wry account of early twentieth century tourists and mores. It's also a great love story, which everyone needs in summer.
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac -- Summer is a time of wandering, if only in your mind, and Kerouac's great novel of men and mountains is inspiring and breezy. One to take on the road.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel -- Perfect waterside reading -- half the book is spent in a small boat with a Tiger. It's a wonderful fable, uplifting and inspiring.
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