French is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who worked for the St. Petersburg Times from 1981 to 2008. His most recent book, Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives, was released July 6.
What's on your nightstand?
Charles Dickens' Bleak House. I want to understand how Dickens drew characters. His characters are astonishing. I also just finished The Lost City of Z by David Grann. It's a well-written book about obsession.
Was Grann for fun?
Yes, for fun. I might've made it sound like I read Dickens for scholarly reasons, but that's not the case. I read almost entirely for fun because if you want to write, you need to understand how it is to be seduced on the page, and that's why I read.
Who else, like Dickens, has great ability with characters?
Larry McMurtry with Lonesome Dove. Patrick O'Brian's sea novels had Aubrey and Maturin, who I think will go down in history as two of the greatest characters in literature.
What journalists are on your nightstand?
I've got Gene Weingarten, David Finkel's The Good Soldiers, anything Anne Hull writes I'll read, and Rick Bragg, who is always powerful. Some of my favorite writers I got to work with in the St. Pete newsroom. They each have something different to offer. Finkel has a quiet sense of grace and strength, Rick is a born storyteller, Anne is somehow both ferocious and gentle at once.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer