Not really one book, but one writer. I only used to read what I considered high-quality fiction, the kind of books that won Nobel prizes, and I looked down on popular fiction. When I was working at Doubleday, our biggest writer was John Grisham. I dismissed his books as not important because of their success. Then I started reading them. I realised the craft of writing a page-turning thriller is a real craft. There’s something great about any book you can’t put down even if it doesn’t contain a single beautiful sentence. I realised that some books are a form of entertainment, a way to pass pleasant time and maybe learn something you didn’t know. That’s what I tried to do with The Expats. Just write an entertaining book.
Would you like to be immortal?
I’d like to try it out. Although it might get boring. I believe we only see a tiny strip of reality. Dogs and cats can see things we don’t. Ghosts and fancies and fantasies, we create all these things. There is nothing more powerful than the imagination. I don’t believe in life after death. Sometimes I wish I did. But then I think about all the awful people I’d have to meet.
I was asked to contribute a short story of six words to an anthology based on the Hemingway legend: “For Sale: baby’s shoes, never worn.”
I wrote, “Should have lived more, written less.”
But I can’t really believe that.
Do you know the story of someone approaching Joyce, here in Zürich?
A man said, “May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?”
Joyce replied, “No, it did lots of other things, too.”