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Richard Ford Is Not ‘The Sportswriter’

Thirty years after the publication of the book that transformed his life, the novelist talks about life, death, writing, and Donald Trump

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Getty Images

In his third novel, The Sportswriter, Richard Ford writes, “For your life to be worth anything you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret. Though you must also manage to avoid it or your life will be ruined.” It is a haunting, circuitous sentiment that sticks with me, though it seems not with Ford, who, at 72 years old, is as productive, engaged, and clear-eyed as he was when he first created Frank Bascombe, his signature character. Bascombe, a failed writer working in magazines before moving on to other things, has now appeared in four of Ford’s books, and likely more in the future. But the first, which was published 30 years ago this year, has a particularly mordant origin, born of a failed sportswriting career for the author, who had been a writer with Inside Sports, the short-lived but admired magazine that folded in 1982.

“Jay Lovinger, who is the best line editor and conceptual editor I’ve ever met, came to me and said, ‘We have to assign Richard Ford a story.’ And so we did,” said John Walsh, the founding editor of the magazine. After the dissolution of the magazine, Ford returned to novels, which he’d given up in the early ’80s, and began to carve out a rare space in contemporary fiction, composing books that were both funny and wrenching, formally rigorous and comfortingly unfussy.

Ford, who still speaks with a Mississippi lilt that is both wry and unreserved, has several books in progress and still teaches at Columbia University, and later this month, he will be given the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award (named for a particular hero of his) as well as the Pulitzer for fiction. He is a heavyweight of American literature, having published eight novels and four story collections, and written one produced screenplay. He also dabbles in rock crit and international political commentary. Ford and I spoke about what happened before and what comes next.

I was curious about you and the idea of memoir and Frank Bascombe. Is that something that you are interested in doing?

I’ve done it now. Yes, I’ve written a book called Between Them, which is two memoirs about my parents. Two distinct memoirs about the same period of time, more or less, and their lives during that period of time, which is before I was born and up to the point in which they each died. So I’ve done that.

How do you report on your own family members in that way?

Well, I wrote the one about my mother in 1986, and she had not, at that point, been gone five years. She’d be dead five years. And many things were fresh in my mind at the time. About my father, who died in 1960: There has been, ever since the essay about my mother, a longing in me to write about my father. But what it required — since he had been dead a long time, and also because I didn’t get to see him all that much because he was a traveling salesman — I would say an immense amount of just filing back through my memories. And writing things about his absence, and trying to make up an essay, a memoir that would be about his absence, rather than what would typically be the case, which would be about his presence.

Do things get refracted through time that you then get wrong, or was accuracy essential to what you were doing?

Well, I just tried to make sure that I didn’t say anything that I couldn’t verify in my memory. I didn’t make any avers about him that I couldn’t substantiate, and I didn’t talk about anything that I didn’t directly remember. In each of these, I didn’t mean the memoirs to be very long. Neither of my parents was an accomplished person. There wasn’t that much to say about them other than that I felt because they meant such a great deal to me that it was worth trying to find a virtue in telling a life, which wasn’t a particularly accomplished life.

Do you feel that way about your characters as well? There is a bit of a quotidian quality to some of them that you still find a lot of grace and a lot of empathy for.

Well, first of all, they’re not people, so they’re made of words. And second of all, my belief is that even if they were people, that everybody can be found to be. … It’s worth looking in everybody for some kind of virtue. And I don’t mean to say typical kinds of conventional virtue — you know, be nice to dogs, helps old ladies off the street — but other sorts of virtue that you might not have imagined their exhibiting. So I have a kind of optimism about people. I think that people are worth our attention, so that to me feels quite redeeming.

And does Between Them ultimately become about you, or is it very much focused on both of your folks?

Well, because I tell it, it has to some extent be at least out of my intelligence, if not literally, about me. But as much as I could, I tried to make it be about them. But I want it to be about them. You can’t get away from the fact that I am the chooser, and the decider, and the moral judge of these things, but to the extent that I could, I kept myself out of it.

Were you surprised by something you remembered or learned about them along the way?

I think I was surprised to learn something that I maybe could’ve known before, but never articulated, which was how much they mattered to each other in a way that made me third in the grouping. I found that to be very heartening and encouraging, and I think that’s the way it should be with parents, that children should always be down the line, should always be subordinate to parents’ love for each other. I found that to be true, and I always found how much with even that being true — the prominency of their love for each other — that they still led very distinct, and in some ways, almost isolate, lives.

Did you ever imagine you would write a memoir? They hold a different place in the culture now than they did maybe 20 years ago.

Yeah, they do. Did I ever? Well, I mean I wrote this first one, I wrote it 30 years ago. … And I wrote it in the aftermath of my mother’s death, and in deference to her, so I guess, until my mother died, I never thought of it. And since my mother died, I never imagined that I wouldn’t write the one about my father. I always thought I would.

Is there anything more conventional that you would do about your own experiences through your success, through your writing, or do you prefer to be more focused?

Well, I don’t quite know what you mean.

Well, in other words, is there an iteration of a second memoir that could be about everything that has happened to you from 1986 through today?

No, I don’t think I’d ever write about that. Some people flatter you sometimes and say that you should do that, and I’m not interested in it. I mean, I don’t think I’ve lived a particularly interesting life other than that I got to do what I precisely wanted to do and it worked out OK. But my goal has been not to lead an interesting life, but to write interesting books. So to think that anything in my life was worth telling in and of itself, that doesn’t seem that feasible to me.

That’s a very interesting way to put that. Do you find that sometimes the writing of the books comes at the expense of your life?

Well, I wouldn’t say at the expense. … Not at the expense, no. I’ve never put anything in a book, in a piece of fiction out of my life that I felt I either wasted or no longer had access to, or maybe did anything to get the most out of. So, no, it was not at the expense of anything. I mean, I think that’s basically how I think about writing fiction, which really comes out of your life, and I don’t mean to say literally out of your life. It comes out of torques and stresses and force fields of your life, and everything you can, from your life, put to use in a piece of fiction is a good use.

Do you ever go back and read your own work?

Well, only when asked to. Only in public. Otherwise, no, because I’m completely satisfied with everything I ever wrote.

And there’s nothing in it to sort of remember, relearn, that you want access to?

Well, you know, when I was writing these “Bascombe” books, it was a little bit of a dilemma for me, one to the next. Would I go back and completely immerse myself in the previous books, if only for factual reasons. And I decided not to do that for fear that I would be tempted to rewrite things in a subsequent book that I felt dissatisfied with in the previous one. So I elected not to do that, so when I needed to pluck a detail out of the previous books, it was not from immersion or saturation of books, it really was just going to cherry-pick something, having to go through the books and find something that I knew I needed to have access to, but otherwise I’ve never gone back into them. I’m sure I never will.

Vintage Books
Vintage Books

I’m curious about Frank Bascombe — did he occur to you when you were still working as a sportswriter for Inside Sports? Or did the character occur to you after all that ended?

Hard to say. I guess I knew when I started writing The Sportswriter that I was onto the influence of two or three books that I had liked very much, and what I was writing was inevitably going to be kind of an extension of those books. And that was Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes. And then Something Happened by [Joseph] Heller and Walker Percy’s book The Moviegoer. I knew those books were strongly affecting me and I was a little … I was nervous about it, and I stayed nervous about it for a long time. I was just really rehearsing things that they had already done. But I came to realize that that wasn’t true, and just exactly when that coalescence of those three books occurred to me was before I started writing The Sportswriter, or during. … I don’t really have a way to date that. I just knew that those three books, apart from having distinctive what you might call voices, were able to bring together both serious and unserious things at the same time. And I liked that. Because it seemed that that was going on in my head, very serious things, and also very fatuous and funny things. And I thought, I needed to find a medium, or instrument to combine those things into something larger than just the sum of the two parts.

That’s exactly what I love about The Sportswriter.

Well, me too. It’s what I liked about it when I was writing it and that’s what I like about all of them. And Frank is the character who, in a way, merges [that idea], and I feel like, who can make you laugh, but is also able to take head-on issues that I think are worth taking head on in a novel.

You’ve said that you try to keep as much of yourself out of your work as possible, but I am curious about a couple of things in The Sportswriter — in particular the experiences about meeting with a paralyzed football player to profile him. Were you trying to rebuild specific moments from your life?

No. No. I never … I went to Michigan one time when I was a sportswriter, but it was to interview Bo Schembechler, which didn’t work out very well, because he was such a turd. But I never went to Wild Lake, and I never interviewed a guy in a wheelchair. That was pretty much entirely something that I imagined.

Were you operating in isolation when you were working on those stories or were you in an office setting?

I was isolated. Really, just home. Sitting at home. I would go out and report stuff and then I would come back and I’d write it. Inside Sports, they had an office, for sure, in the Newsweek building, but it wasn’t an office for writers. It was an office for editors.

I know what that’s like.

Yeah [laughs]. I don’t think I could operate very well in an office if I was having to write, and a lot of people do that at The New Yorker. … That’s because the New Yorker is kind of a home for so many people, whereas the offices at Time Inc. or the office at Newsweek could never have been a home for me.

I wanted to ask you how familiar you are with the state of modern sports writing, because I think that it’s more common that you have a raft of people on a floor kind of furiously banging out copy for the internet as opposed to how it might have been when Inside Sports was publishing.

I don’t really know, but I’m not very familiar with sports writing at all, because I’ve lost my appetite for it. I just lost my appetite. Not entirely for being a spectator, but I have, I guess, with the lot that’s on TV, and with print trying to compete for attention with TV, and also because of the degree to which professional sports, and college sports have become commercialized, I’ve just lost interest. I’ve just simply lost interest for it. Certainly lost interest in writing about it.

In The Sportswriter, Bascombe has a reflection on beat writers and the respect he has for beat writers relative to the national reporter/feature writer types. Was that a personal reflection of any kind?

It probably was. … When I was working for them, I was often in press boxes, where I had never really been before, and I was very taken by beat writers writing out the running story of a game that they were watching at the same time. I found that to be fascinating and also impressive that they could do that. The game is over, and an hour later, they have to file. And I just found that to be impressive. I thought they were kind of low-skill geniuses, those guys.

I’m a little reluctant to ask you this, but I’m going to: Do you ever look at Twitter? Are you familiar with Twitter?

No, I’m not.

That’s probably fortunate for you. It can be a more granular version of what you’re describing — less poetic, but more efficient.

You mean the sportswriting that goes on in Twitter?

Yeah. It’s kind of transformed sportswriting.

Oh. No, I have no social media at all. I don’t have … I’ve never. … No [laughs].

That sounds like a blessed life. I’m curious about the place that Frank holds for you at this point — are you still engaging with that character?

Yeah, I am. I’m engaging with him, or with it, whatever you want to call it, a lot, as a matter of fact, without really feeling that I have the wherewithal to write another Bascombe book. I have another Bascombe book that if I felt different from how I feel right now, I could very easily be writing. It’s called “Be Mine” and it’s fully formed in my mind. And it’s been becoming fully formed for about more than a year and a half, and I’ve gone on making lots of notes and I know what the formal features of the book are. But I haven’t had time to write it, and I haven’t had the, I don’t know, the gumption to write it. I just never had. I just haven’t wanted to sit myself down and, you know, launch hooks, raft into the river without certainty that I’ll either get to the bottom or can get back [laughs]. So I just haven’t done that. But I could. I could. Indeed, I owe my publisher a new book, and I have two books in my brain, one of which is a Frank book, and another one is a not Frank book.

Is the process the same for you now as it used to be? Does the writing get easier or more difficult?

I never think of it as difficult or easy. I just think of it as a thing I choose to do. And once you choose to do it, I think you abandon your ability to complain about it. It has wonderful moments, writing novels, and it becomes this sort of alternate life that you live, and it lasts for three or four years, and that can be both immersing and it can be stultifying. But when you get to the end … better to say, when you get to the editorial phases of writing books, and the pipeline opens and your book goes in it, and deadlines start coming up, and copy edit comes up, and you have to realize that what you’ve worked on very hard for a long time still isn’t quite right, and you’ve got a certain amount of time to make it right. I find that to be intensely displeasing.

I can relate.

I really hate it. And I do everything I can to avoid it. And what I’m doing now to avoid it is not setting forth.

You said something once that I find really interesting. You said, “A lot of people could be novelists if they were willing to devote their lives to their own responses to things,” which I think could be grossly misinterpreted now. And it seems to be, at least in the media, that sort of sentiment is weirdly destructive. Do you still use it as a compass?

I do. Yeah, I do. That’s exactly what I do. What about it would be destructive or discomforting? What’s the bad side to doing that?

Well, I think it ultimately results in people responding too quickly to how they feel about something as opposed to trying to understand it, and so, inevitably, you have a lot of feelings about a lot of things that people haven’t processed.

Well, yeah, but the novelistic process is an innately ruminant one, and it takes a long time to process sensation into composition into language onto the page, and so I think I am saved from those kinds of peremptoriness by just [these sorts] of glacial qualities of how I work. I’m never in a hurry. I try things out, I try things on, I throw things out, I move things around. In the process of doing all that, you have an opportunity to ask yourself the signal questions of, “Do I want to see this on the page? Do I think that that might be interesting? Do I want to live with this for the rest of my life?”

In contrast to the memoir idea, I think a lot of people do take that sentence that you shared and apply it specifically to what has happened to them, and then iterating on that as opposed to trying to be creative around that.

Well, all you’re talking about really is the difference between good writing and bad [laughs]. Unfortunately, there’s no formula to save a person from being a bad writer. Iowa Writers’ Workshops notwithstanding.

Do you still teach?

I teach at Columbia. I teach literature at Columbia. I don’t teach writing. I taught my last writing course a long time ago. I just got too old for it, because I don’t really care if people become writers. And I didn’t always know I felt that way. But I came to understand that I felt that way.

Did you once feel the opposite?

I think I was lured into the fact that I cared by the fact that I could teach it and that I could do what was required to operate within a writing context like that. Run a workshop, or have conferences with students about manuscripts. It was inserting myself into the machinery of an institution without ever really acting myself, without even knowing if I believed in the institution’s goals. After a certain amount of time, I did ask myself and I discovered that, lo and behold, I didn’t give a shit.

So why still teach literature?

Because I still read it. I really enjoy reading interesting books and teaching people who want to be writers how important reading is. Then, out of the context of reading the book The Enigma of Arrival by [V.S.] Naipaul, I can identify things that Naipaul does that will be provocative to a young writer, I think, and instructive to a young writer. In that way, many of the people in my seminar try to become writers and probably most of them fail. But then they become readers, and their life is made better just the way our lives are made better by everything that we read that’s good.

What do you make of the country’s relationship with novels right now?

I don’t know what it is. I don’t pay attention to that.

You don’t follow that world?

No, no. I don’t have time.

Do you follow young writers? Do you seek out new authors?

In principal, yes. In practice, they seek me out. I’m interested in them, but they come to me, largely. Once in awhile, I’ll have a student who writes something good, and pretty quickly that student will be tapping on my window, wanting me to read a book. That way, I pay attention to young writers. Emma Cline, who wrote this wonderful book called The Girls, nice book. She’s a good writer. I had her as a student, but not as a writing student, but that was sort of a coming together which was natural. But there are lots of ways that I get found. I’m not running from young writers, neither am I running toward them. I’m just not running away.

Who do you like to read in general?

I won this prize in Spain called the Princess of Asturias [Award], and I’m going to Spain on the 22nd, and they asked me — the people who run this prize — if I would give a talk at the library in Oviedo about any four books I really liked. The four books I chose were: The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen; The Untouchable by John Banville; The Moviegoer by Walker Percy; and Light Years by James Salter. Those are four typical books that I adore. I just adore. Now that I’m old and I’m not writing as much … I read all the time. Just constantly. Airplanes, here, everywhere — read, read, read. Everywhere. It’s great, I love it.

I’m curious about your relationship to place now. Obviously, just arranging this conversation, I learned that you were moving from place to place, home to home. Your books have been set in places that seem very meaningful to the stories — Montana, New Jersey, Canada — is there somewhere that you haven’t set a book that you’d like to exhaust?

Someplace I have yet to set a book that I would like to exhaust? Well, the book I have not started to write that I could start to write would be set in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. But even then, I’ve written about Michigan. I’ve set things in Michigan. So if I set this book in Sault Ste. Marie, it would probably work on things that I’ve done in the past and have yet to exhaust. But I’ve covered Montana now. I’d like to write some more things that are set in Canada. I like Canada very much. I can dream up interesting things to say about Canada. I’ve got a story I’m going to write this winter … called, “Driving Up.” About driving from the United States and driving across the border in Canada. That has some allure for me. But as far as there being places in the world that I don’t know that I would like to set something in, nope, there’s not.

Your work tends to grapple with national issues. Two of the Bascombe books are set against major, national events.

Was it two or three? To some extent Lay of the Land is, and that’s set against the hurricanes.

I suppose that’s right, three of them are. Have you been following the election?

I’ve been following the election very closely, and I’ve been writing about it for newspapers overseas. I’ve been writing a lot of journalism this year for The Financial Times, for Le Monde, for Die Zeit, the [Times Literary Supplement] in London. A lot. Ten separate essays probably all together.

How does that happen?

Well, I have books published in these countries, and the books do quite well in Germany and France and Spain and Sweden. Editors of newspapers call me up and ask me if I’ll write an essay, and I do. It’s different writing for a foreign audience than an American audience, and in some ways it’s a lot easier.

Is this election easier to write about or more difficult to write about because it’s such a carnival?

I think it’s easier, it’s easier to make interesting.

Do you think it’s interesting to do that line of work?

Yes, yes I do. I’m interested in politics and I always have been. I like to write novels that, as you said before, have real events behind them and are therefore political in nature. I’m natively interested in the affairs of the state. You can tell in the Bascombe books. I’m interested in citizenship, I’m interested in the effects of history on an individual in the present tense. I’m interested in the way we feel in our daily lives; the force field emanated from our government. I’m interested in those things.

Anything terrifying or exciting to you about what’s happening in the country right now?

[Donald] Trump is terrifying in a way, but I don’t think he’s terrifying in the way that people think he’s terrifying. He’s terrifying because he represents the possibility of missing a great opportunity. I don’t think, for instance, if Trump were to become president, then he wouldn’t be nearly as bad as everyone thinks he would be, because the forces of government would kind of close down around him. He would feel completely hemmed in, like Obama’s hemmed in. He’d probably feel it more because he’s such a nutcase. There would be so many incursions on his sense of freedom and latitude that he would just be disappointing and representative of opportunities missed. We don’t have the luxury as a nation to miss opportunities, particularly climate control or something like that. He’s not going to bomb North Korea, I don’t think. Or close down NATO. I don’t think he’d be able to do that. At least not any more than he’d able to get Mexico to build a wall across the border. He’s a fool.

Is there anything within what’s transpiring in this election that makes it difficult to apply in a fictional setting? There’s obviously a stranger-than-fiction thing happening right now, and I’m curious what the wave of fiction will look like once we exit this.

All I think about it is how it might affect me. For sure it would be material that one could intercalate into books. But for me, it would take more time than I have left for all that material to sink into the ground and then rise back up through my feet and be tingling enough to want to write about. I’m so slow about those ways of rehashing what have been journalistic stories. I just don’t do it very quickly.

The other Bascombe books are all a certain number of years after the events have occurred and they feel more thoughtful because of that, I think.

I think they’re better for that reason. I think that when novelists turn a story around quickly that’s been in the news and make a novel out of it, they’re doing it too fast. They’re not telling you anything more than dramatizing a journalistic story. I don’t want to do that.

Is there any other journalism you wish you had done? I’m curious about that.

No. No. [Laughs.] I’ve done all I’ve wanted to do. I wanted to be a sportswriter, but I couldn’t get a job at Sports Illustrated. But I wrote well enough about sports to make myself think that I could make a go of it, and if indeed Inside Sports closed down in 1982, and if Sports Illustrated had given me a job, I would’ve taken it. And I would’ve kept it. I wouldn’t have written any novels. That would’ve been just fine with me.

Do you ever consider what sort of writer you would’ve become? Would you have stayed a sportswriter in perpetuity?

More than likely. I don’t have much regard for these guys who are sportswriters who then come along later and write a book of short stories, or come along and write a book of essays. I have much more regard for people like me and [Thomas] McGuane and [Jim] Harrison and [John] Updike, who really had a proper vocation. And vocation is to say a novelist and a story writer who can take those skills and those sensibilities and bring them to bear on what might seem the smaller fry of other subjects, like sports. It doesn’t work as well the other way when you hone your skills as a sportswriter and then go legit and try to write a book. It almost never works very well. W.C. Heinz, Bill Heinz, he was an example of a guy who could do it both ways. But most people can’t.

How old were you when you were a sportswriter?

When I started it was in 1981, so I was 37. Well 1982, so I had just turned 38.

Do you think there’s a proper break point for identifying what your proper vocation is?

No. No. No. I thought my proper vocation was as a novelist, and because of Ray Carver, I got grandfathered into the short-story writing community. I thought I qualified, but I didn’t think I had the enthusiasm that I had for writing stories that I had for writing novels. I just felt that I was well-served and that my [abilities], such as I found them to be, were well-utilized writing novels.

My background is mostly in cultural criticism and I read your Bruce Springsteen review in the Times Book Review and found myself wondering what sort of cultural critic you might’ve been if that had been your approach.

I would’ve been a one-note cultural critic.

Why do you say that?

Even though I didn’t do it so much in that Springsteen piece, I have a kind of protestant, cautionary motive. I think too often, I get to the end of an essay and pull my chin a little bit and think of myself as telling you something that you need to know for fear that if you don’t know it then something bad will happen to you. I think that works in some stories, it doesn’t work in all. I think I would’ve been limited, really, as a cultural critic. I’m interested in all sorts of things and I know a lot about a lot of different things, but I don’t know if I have that wide a moral compass.

I think that’s how a lot of cultural critics would define themselves today: trying to tell people something that they must know about, but that’s maybe not the right approach in general.

I don’t think there is one general approach. I think there are a lot of general approaches. I remember when I wrote a piece about Springsteen back in the ’80s. It came back around to something that he talks about back in this book, about how Reagan tried to appropriate “Born in the U.S.A.,” more or less because of its harmonics, more than for its lyrics. What I ended up writing at the end of that essay for Esquire was: Don’t be fooled. It felt good then and I was young then and that was fine, but I kept finding myself coming around to that same pylon too many times.

Is it a fear about being prescriptive?

No, I don’t mind being prescriptive. I just think you need to be something else besides being prescriptive. And I don’t know that the sum of my long experience in life makes me prescriptive. It makes me uncomfortable to know that that’s true, but I am that way.

I’m curious about what Frank means to you at this point. That may be too vague of a question …

No, it’s not. It’s the same thing he meant to me at any time. He’s an instrument. He’s an instrument for composing disparate materials which are important to me and interesting to me. As anything coming close to resembling a persona or, God forbid, a person, he means very little. There’s very little attachment to him that way for me. I think that that’s wise of me to think of him that way because it allows me to widen the things he can think and widen the things he can negotiate.

After 30 years, has the meaning of The Sportswriter changed for you at all?

No, it has no meaning for me. It just is what it is. It doesn’t shine with any luminescence, it’s just all different from the sum of its parts.

Do you personally have a time when you think you’ll stop writing?

Well, I hope it’s at my own choice. I mean, I hope I just die. That would be OK. But I don’t want to stop writing because I’m the last person to know that I’m just no good at it anymore. That would be not good. I would like to be able to, say, spend a year sitting down and writing a book. You come to the end of the year and you say, “Well, you know, this isn’t very good.” Maybe what that means to me is that I’ve come to the end of whatever makes me be able to write books that are good. Then I think that would be very satisfying. It wouldn’t be a loss, but it’d be the end of something for sure. But maybe it’d be a useful end to experience. I don’t want to have [New York Times book critic] Michiko Kakutani tell me that my book is not good, which she routinely does over and over again, and then come to believe she’s right.

It didn’t used to be that way.

No, it didn’t, she liked The Sportswriter. I feel like she must’ve thought I said something bad about her, though I never did, and I don’t. She works her side of the street and I work mine. At a certain point, she had enough of me. I don’t know why. I’m sorry?

You shouldn’t be sorry.

I am, though!

I looked back at a couple of her pieces about your books last week and a couple of them seemed like they had forgotten the chronology of the previous books, like they didn’t seem to be as familiar with The Sportswriter as they should’ve been.

I haven’t read one of her reviews since The Sportswriter. No, I read one of her reviews… well, I think in the ’90s sometime? My wife won’t let me read those things anymore. [My wife] Kristina told me that her feelings about Let Me Be Frank With You were not positive but kind of grudging in a way, that the book made her stand up and pay attention without giving her a real ability to say that she liked it.

Yeah, that was the one where I feel like she had lost touch with who the character was and what his motivations were.

Well, she’s been doing that job for a really long time. I think she’s been doing it since 1985, 30-plus years — that’s a long time to be doing two books per week.

That’s a lot of books. I thought the same thing.

A lot of books! And I don’t know how that could be very satisfying. It must be the easiest job in the world she could get.

You have no relationship to criticism like that at this point?

Other than writing the Bruce piece, no, none.

You don’t engage with the criticism of your pieces …

Ever. Other than what we were doing just now. What is it Samuel Johnson says? “Toward my critics I experience a frigid tranquility.”