So there are times when I’ll get into a book and find that the writing
isn’t happening for me. Seventy-five percent of my professional life is
research for a book, but for recreation, I read novels almost exclusively.
It helps the voice for a nonfiction writer to read fiction. Right now, I’m
on a Charles Portis kick.
AYCOCK: The author of True Grit?
PHILBRICK: Yeah, True Grit. And all his other stuff is even better. I discovered him about five or ten years ago and read everything. Recently I
started rereading Norwood, his first book, and I went, “Wow!” He’ll have
a turn of phrase that just stops me. That’s what engages me and gets me
going. I’m reading as much for the language as for the plot.
AYCOCK: It’s often said that people don’t read books anymore because
they have short attention spans. Do you think Americans actually are
PHILBRICK: I don’t think we are reading less. We’re reading differently.
Yeah, some people still plug in their movies, and that’s all they do.
There’s a danger there, and that’s probably an inevitable tendency, but
there are still a lot of people for whom the written word is just as important. There are different delivery platforms, of course. I love having
a book, but when I’m traveling, I read on my phone if I’m in an airport.
Sometimes, I have both versions. I read War and Peace not long ago, and
I was going between the two. It’s a great book. It’s like Moby. I can see
myself going back to it.
AYCOCK: Books like that intimidate people. How would you encourage
someone not to feel intimidated?
PHILBRICK: For me, once I got into my thirties, I realized I was coming to
this on my own terms. It wasn’t a school assignment. And I was able to
think, “Wow, this is great” rather than “Okay, I have to read this because
I’m going to be tested.” The older you get, the more you have to look at
the classics. I just reread Homer, and it was also great. That greatness is
what I’m always trying to find. I would encourage people to look to the
classics. They are classic for a reason.