Good to Know
In our interview, Maraniss shared some fascinating facts about himself:
"Some facts about me: I got married when I had just turned 20 and am still married, 34 years later, to Linda Maraniss, who is my best editor and partner in all of my books."
"Although I often write about politics, my real interest is in why people do what they do, the forces that shape them."
"I love baseball on the radio, crossword puzzles, Scrabble, and music. I hate ideologues who fail to see the human dimension in all of life."
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In the fall of 2003, David Maraniss took some time to talk with us about his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer -- and why?
The book(s) that most affected my career were a three-part set of the writings of George Orwell, comprised mostly of his essays. His clear and clean writing style and his courage in saying precisely what he believed inspired me to try to tell the truth in my writing, no matter where it led, and to try to look at the world free from ideological encrustations.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
My ten favorite books would include:
Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Holling -- A children's book about a wooden canoe that makes its way from Minnesota to the Atlantic, by far the most impressionable book of my childhood.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather, which powerfully evokes the American midwestern experience that is part of my heritage.
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, which was the first book I read that made me, like millions of others my age, feel connected to a secret but shared world.
All Fires the Fire by Julio Cortázar, which I became obsessed with because of its fascination with the accidental nature of life.
The Long Season by Jim Brosnan, which was the first sports book I read that seemed to connect sports to something larger and deal with it honestly.
The Power Broker by Robert Caro, which overwhelmed me with its detail and brilliant narrative style.
Lady with Lapdog and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov, whose sensibility in writing I find the most satisfying of anyone I have read.
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan and The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, each book a masterpiece of reportage by authors I admire on a subject close to my heart.
The Essays of George Orwell, especially "A Hanging," which I think is the best essay that indirectly attacks the death penalty of anything I've ever read.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
My favorite films are Black Orpheus and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands -- two unforgettable Latin films that left me mesmerized; Midnight Run, which made me laugh harder than any so-called comedy; and All the President's Men, which I found thrilling.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I love jazz, and listen to John Coltrane while I am writing.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
The latest book I've been telling people about is What I Saw by Joseph Roth, the German journalist who warned of the rise of Hitler.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
l love to give books to other people, but it depends entirely on their sensibilities what genre it is. My own preference is nonfiction.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
When I'm writing, I try to get to my desk by six. I love the feeling of having accomplished something while it is still morning, and having the day open in front of me. On my desk I have some trinkets from Vietnam, a poster of Vince Lombardi, a pin of Roberto Clemente, and a picture of my sister Wendy, who was killed several years ago.
What are you working on now?
I am starting a book on Roberto Clemente, the great Latin baseball player who was killed in a plane crash as he was bringing relief to Nicaragua after an earthquake in December 1972.
Many writers 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 had been a journalist for more than 20 years before I decided I was ready to write my first book, the biography of Clinton, which I began the day after the election in November 1992. Before that, I think I was afraid of writing a book. But all of a sudden the fear disappeared, and has been gone ever since.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
If you build a strong foundation, developing the crafts of reporting and writing, you will know when you are ready and you will break through eventually. Some writers try a trick to make it through, and they might have some success with that, but it will be short-lived.
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