Anne Rice’s Final Interview: ‘I Am Known to Be Passionate’ – The New York Times
Shortly before the stroke that killed her, the author of the Vampire Chronicles and many other books — including the forthcoming “Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris, ” written with her son, Christopher — answered questions from the Book Review.
What books are on your night stand?
Currently it’s Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare, and “The World Before Us: How Science Is Revealing a New Story of Our Human Origins, ” by Tom Higham.
What’s the last great book you read?
“Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, ” by David S. Reynolds. It’s an absolute feast for us history buffs and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I was first made aware of Reynolds thanks to his wonderful biography of Walt Whitman.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
When I’m not at my computer I’m reading almost constantly in my recliner with a gooseneck lamp angled over my shoulder. I’m a diligent underliner and I take notes in the margins nearly constantly. This is as true with the books I read for research as it is for the fiction I savor and enjoy again and again. My son, Captain christopher (who is also my co-author on “Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris”), has tried repeatedly to get me to join the digital reading revolution, but I’m a holdout. I’m too enamored with making handwritten notes all over the page. Recently I asked people not to laugh at me on Twitter when I suggested using potato chip bag clips to hold open large hardcover novels on your lap. But it works beautifully. Try it if you don’t believe me.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
“Kings Row, ” by Henry Bellamann. It’s so terribly sad to me that will Bellamann’s novels have been all but forgotten today. I regard this as a lost American classic. It was a great success upon its release and made into a film that featured a young Ronald Reagan. I discovered it after stumbling across the film, and then I rushed out to obtain a copy from the novel. It’s such a rich exploration of how we survive in a world full of ugliness, loneliness and suffering. As soon as I finished it, I went right to Amazon and posted a five-star review.
What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading through do you avoid while writing?
I have to say, I don’t consume nearly as much contemporary fiction as I do scholarship and nonfiction on the topics that obsess me and fill my work. Some exceptions have been my delightful discovery associated with novels by Kristin Hannah and Louise Penny in the past few years. But when I’m focusing on a novel, I feel as if the research never ends, plus I’m blessed to be able to keep an extensive library here in the home.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
Nothing rivals the deep seriousness and compassion with which Tolstoy depicts his characters. And I feel strongly he wrote about women in a way that was deeper and more sophisticated than many writers today. I have always possessed a profound and abiding love for my characters, and I am moved when another writer exhibits the same passion. Cynicism in fiction repels me as does an author’s simmering contempt for all of their subjects.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
We voraciously consume nonfiction, specifically history and biographies of great artists and historical figures. When I do consume fiction, which is rare, it’s mostly works of grand ambition from generations past. Stories of immense scope such as those by Dickens and Tolstoy. What is considered today to be the modern literary novel, with its focus on pedestrian realism, has never deeply moved me personally. I saw myself as deeply at odds with it when I first begin publishing in the 1970s.
Do you distinguish between “commercial” and “literary” fictional? Where’s that line, for you?
I don’t, and I believe the great novelists of our time have taken battering rams to the distinction simply by attempting works of immense grandeur and scope.
How do you organize your books?
I’m blessed to maintain a large library here in our home in the Coachella Valley, and I have a devoted plus loving staff who help me to ceaselessly organize as well as rearrange sections of it when the need arises. It’s nothing like what it used to be when I lived in New Orleans and maintained cavernous rooms of books at my homes within the Garden District or the St . Elizabeth’s building. To get my library to its current size I’ve had to give many books away. Sometimes I sell them through Powell’s in Portland, Ore. The fact that so many have the notes handwritten in the margins appeals to some of their buyers.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I’m not sure there’s a particular book, but I think some might be amazed by the sheer volume of science writing I own. When you invent alternate worlds plus supernatural cosmologies it can be incredibly inspiring to read about how little we still know about the underlying fabric of the universe.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Tolstoy and Dickens, without a doubt. And perhaps our late husband, Stan, who was a brilliant poet and painter. I miss him terribly. We were married for over 40 years before he died of a brain tumor in 2002.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
I’m always playing catch-up with publications by my talented loved ones. My brilliant son, Christopher Rice, has so many wonderful thrillers and is bringing out several gay romances next year. And my hilarious best friend, Eric Shaw Quinn, has the “Write Murder” mystery series. He’s our family’s beloved raconteur. Christopher and Eric also produce wonderful podcasts together at TheDinnerPartyShow. com .
When you come from a family associated with writers and artists, it can be a challenge to stay abreast of their work and also to not intrude onto their process with your feedback and responses. I am known to be passionate in my responses to things.