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Meet the WritersImage of Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr
Good to Know
In our interview with Doerr, he revealed some fun facts about himself:

"I hate peanut butter. I loathe it. My mom used to make it from scratch, and I remember watching her pour all that oil into her Cuisinart. And the sound of it, chunking around in there as it got whipped into paste. Ugh!"

"I am a horrific driver in the snow. I get very anxious. I love snow but I feel like humans aren't meant to move 60 mph through it."

"We have a dog named Lucy! She has such a pure heart. She is the best dog that has ever lived."

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In the winter of 2003, Anthony Doerr answered some of our questions.

What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?
This question is impossible to answer. Gosh -- my life, or my work? Maybe, perhaps surprisingly, the novella by Stephen King called The Long Walk. I haven't read it in probably sixteen years, and I don't think I want to now – I worry it wouldn't have as much power. But when I first read it, it destroyed what I thought could be done in stories. His idea -- walk until you're the last one walking -- has haunted me all these years. When I read it, I thought: this is what I want to do -- create convincing, powerful worlds.

What are your ten favorite books -- and why?

  • Suttree, by Cormac McCarthy. Because every sentence is beautiful and funny and sad all at once; because he can describe practically anything with an off-handed clarity that most writers work all their lives to attain.

  • The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. The whole context of the book is so damned interesting. Perhaps he gets too much credit for the idea of natural selection, but it certainly crystallizes the theory for the first time.

  • Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez. Lopez is a hero, a total stud. His prose, his determined clarity -- his whole life is an example.

  • In Patagonia, by Bruce Chatwin. Much of it is not even historically correct! But it's so deeply imagined, so vital -- you can feel him living beneath those words.

  • Collected Poems, by Mary Oliver. An outrageously good observer of the natural world. I learn how to see from her.

  • Sibley's Guide to Birds. It's such a wonderful guidebook. It reminds me that there is so much more to learn if I just pay more attention.

  • The Watch, by Rick Bass. Stories electric with energy. What a debut.

  • Servants of the Map, by Andrea Barrett. She keeps getting better.

  • I have a big old copy of the Webster's Unabridged Dictionary and that has to be listed in my top ten favorite books -- I can open it to any page and learn something.

  • Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley. I so admire how he streamlines the narrative; I desperately want to write a simple story -- they always seem to get out of control and unwieldy. Someday....

Favorite films?
The Thin Red Line, for its strange beauty. The Royal Tennenbaums is probably my favorite movie right now. It's so good and detailed and heart-breaking. Every inch of that house was designed to reinforce some element of the story. I'll admit to Lord of the Rings. Ulee's Gold with Henry Fonda. In terms of sheer foolishness, I can watch Meet the Parents with Ben Stiller once a month. And Chris Farley's Tommy Boy.

Favorite music?
I've been getting into Nick Drake lately, the folk singer. Sad, gorgeous stuff.

If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
I think we'd be reading Stories in the Worst Way, by Gary Lutz. It's so deeply odd -- his sentences become puzzles; they turn language into this surprising, unfamiliar, stunning construct. Plus, I think it's a book that ought to be bought, so I'd make sure the book club bought many copies. Although, on second thought, I think right now I'd have our hypothetical club read something about Iraq -- something to help round out our picture of what we've done and continue to do to that country.

What are your favorite books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I write reviews of science books for the Boston Globe, so I like to give science books. I like to get books of any kind, of course. I wish I could set aside a year just to read -- wake up in the morning and go to some cabin in a forest of birch with lots of aquariums inside and big leather couches and I could finally read all the books I've always wanted to read, like Charlotte's Web! I've never read Charlotte's Web!

Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?

  • J.M. Coetzee, because his work is so clear and clean and functions as well on the literal level as it does on the metaphorical.

  • Rick Bass, because of the energy in his stories.

  • Andrea Barrett, because of the elegance of her stories, the way she fuses passion and science.

What are you working on now?
I'm trying to write the ending to a novel which I think will be called About Grace -- I hope to finish it by the end of summer.

What else do you want your readers to know?
Right now I'm in the Raleigh-Durham airport, and there's an ice storm assaulting the runways and everyone is having their flights cancelled and yet, it's so beautiful out there! The trees are like huge gardens of frost.


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 Anthony Doerr had to say:

  • Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes (the Edith Grossman translation) -- I don't think the size or the age of this book should intimidate any readers -- it is a rollicking, hilarious, fun novel. The repartee between Sancho and Don Quixote is priceless, and Grossman's translation is, as far as I can tell, fabulous.

  • The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, the Art of Writing, and Everything Else in the World Since 1953, edited by George Plimpton -- This is a terrific anthology from one of my favorite literary magazines. A great, heavy book to keep on the night stand. You can open it at random and take in a superb story or a few poems before bed.

  • The Book of Salt by Monique Truong -- I read this book for a contest I was judging and am now pressing it on everybody. It beautifully imagines the life of Gertrude Stein's personal chef in Paris. Rich in language and food and humor and emotion. A great and important read for anybody who has ever felt displaced.

  • Winter: Notes from Montana by Rick Bass -- This is Rick's journal from his first winter in the Yaak Valley, up in the corner of northwestern Montana. It's beautiful and powerful, like all Rick's work, and if you read it in the summer, you'll be at least partially stunned whenever you look up from the book and see leaves on all the trees.

  • An Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell -- A lovely, slim book about butterflies -- their metamorphosis and migrations, and also about the psychology of studying them. Read it in the summer and you'll find yourself looking with new eyes at the insects flapping across your lawn.

  • Suttree by Cormac McCarthy -- Just read it. It's a masterpiece.

  • The Writing Life by Annie Dillard -- With her phenomenally careful prose, Dillard traces the sources of her creativity. It's a slim book, great for traveling, and it's a wonderful portrait of what it means to be an artist. She should charge up the creative impulses of any reader.

  • The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard -- This is a gorgeously-written tragedy about two sisters and the men who come into their lives; vivid and unusual and perfect.

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  • About the Writer
    *Anthony Doerr Home
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    *The Shell Collector: Stories, 2001
    *About Grace, 2005