Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Books

What's Verlyn Klinkenborg reading?

Nightstand

Verlyn Klinkenborg

Klinkenborg, known for his New York Times column, "A Rural Life," was raised on a family farm in Iowa. Klinkenborg, a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, holds a doctorate in English literature from Princeton University. Along with serving on the New York Times editorial board since 1997, he has taught literature and creative writing at Harvard, Fordham and Yale. His most recent book, Several Short Sentences on Writing, was released by Knopf in August. We caught up with Klinkenborg via phone, from his farm in rural New York.

What's on your nightstand?

I always have a pile of books going at once. They include The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I love books that take you completely outside of yourself and into another world. I also have Sven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing. It's a fascinating book about colonial warfare and how that contributed to the nature of World War I and World War II. And I'm reading Journey to a War by W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. It's an account of traveling to China in the 1930s. I've also got Time for Everything by Norwegian writer Karl Knausgaard. It's a really sublime novel. I won't even try to describe it. The books I'm reading are always a mix of fiction, nonfiction and contemporary novels. I try to read all over the place, and if I get interested in something I keep following the author.

Do you differentiate what you're reading for work and what you're reading for pleasure?

For me, there's really no distinction. All of it, the writing, the reading, it's all work and pleasure at the same time. It's important as a writer to always be reading. You cannot be a writer if you are not a reader.

What up-and-coming journalists do you consider to be at the top?

It's difficult to name one, but at the New Yorker, there's Katherine Boo. Her new book about India (Behind the Beautiful Forevers) has just come out, and it's an extraordinary work. Within the world of longer form reporting, it's a book that is beyond the beautiful. It's a book that's just unbelievably reported and well told.

Speaking of the New Yorker, as we see newspapers and magazines disappear, how important is the longer form of journalism?

It's essential. How can you describe anything worth describing in short form? I mean, I write in short form for some of my work, but the world is too complex. I think what's happened is that people have gotten absurd about what they believe about readers. They keep thinking that the attention is getting shorter so if you feed them shorter and shorter it will look that way, but if the story is well told, if research is wonderful, if the essay is doing the job, people will make time to read it. You just can't assume that we are all getting smaller and smaller attention spans.

Piper Castillo, Times staff writer, can be reached at [email protected]

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