Thirteen contemporary writers, ranging from Malcolm Cowley (born 1898) to Raymond Carver (born 1938), comment informally on their work and craft, distinguish between their lives and works, between emotions and incidents, and discuss their self-criticism, work habits and influences. Philip Larkin, who conducted his interview by mail, is the most reclusive, John Ashbery the most distracted, Milan Kundera the least interested in talking about himself, Arthur Koestler the most uneasy, Philip Roth the liveliest, comparing his view of himself with Jack Benny's impersonation of a miser. It isn't Orwell's Big Brother who watches us from the screen, says Roth; it's we who are watching ``a terrifyingly powerful world leader with the soul of an amiable, soap-opera grandmother, the values of a civic-minded Beverly Hills Cadillac dealer, and the historical background and intellectual equipment of a high school senior in a June Allyson musical.'' Other participants in this delightful collection are John Barth, Elizabeth Hardwick, Eugene Ionesco, William Maxwell, Edna O'Brien and May Sarton. (October 7)
Each interview in this addition to the stimulating series is so different that it is hard to generalize about them. In some, interviewer and interviewee can barely disguise their impatience with each other; others are highly sympathetic. In this instance, ``interview'' is a highly misleading term; many writers gave answers to set questions by mail, and several of the interviews have been heavily edited. Nonetheless, many great names in 20th-century literature are represented here, including May Sarton, Eugene Ionesco, Philip Larkin, and Milan Kundera, and the insights they provide regarding the writing process are fascinating. A quibble: Does Elizabeth Hardwick really belong to this party? Carl Vogel, San Francisco P.L.