The Best 19 Books to Read This August
LEIGH HABER: The page is blank, and you're starting a new book. How do you begin?
ANNE TYLER: I think, "Well, I feel like writing about a man this time." Or, "I'm sick of first person. Let me try a different point of view." It could be that I overhear a couple arguing and am intrigued. It's like moving puppets around.
LH: And something kicks in?
AT: Yes. Early on, it's very engineered. Then I just allow the book to happen.
LH: You still write longhand, right?
AT: When I use a pen, it's as if something flows through my fingers to the paper. They're my words. When I finally type it into the computer and print it out, I glide too easily over mistakes—or lies, which is how I think of them. Writing longhand, I can feel, "Oh, I didn't tell the truth there. I wasn't being authentic."
LH: Do you ever get stuck?
AT: Of course, and when I do, I look to a quote that hangs over my desk by the poet Richard Wilbur: "Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. / Something will come to you."
LH: In Clock Dance, we first meet Willa as a little girl. The novel next jumps to her college years, then to Willa in her 40s...
AT: Originally, I had a different character opening the book and was going to weave in Willa's childhood using flashbacks. But I thought, "No, that's cheating." So I started with Willa. But I didn't want people to have to go through every moment of her life—that would be dull. So I can bypass all the stuff we really do know—and trust my readers to figure out what's in the middle.
LH: Do you prefer writing description or dialogue?
AT: I love dialogue. It's like I'm taking dictation and being constantly surprised by what my characters say. But between their spoken lines, I have to get them from one room to another—and remember that no one's had lunch yet, and they can't throw their arms around a person because they're holding a glass of iced tea.
LH: Even if it's as simple as Willa's father making her grilled cheese, you write those nuts and bolts as if you relish them.
AT: I'm bored to death writing those things, so I try to snag one tiny detail that will keep me interested and, therefore, I hope, the reader.
LH: At one point the narrator says this about Willa: "Behind her adult face a child about eleven years old was still gazing out at the world." I think that's true of many of your characters. Is it true of you?
AT: Absolutely. In fact, age 7 would be more accurate. But no one believes me when I tell them that every wise decision I've made, the sense of myself I have, came when I was 7.
LH: After Willa experiences a devastating loss, her father suggests she break the days into moments to deal with her grief.
AT: When my husband died more than 20 years ago, I remember wondering, "How will I get through the rest of my life?" I decided not to think about that, but to just have a cup of coffee. The coffee tasted good. It was a nice day. Bit by bit, the years went by. That's what I wanted for Willa.