Monday’s Read This! post urged everyone to read The Paris Review Interviews with writers, all of which the literary journal has generously made available on its website. (Much as I love being able to read them on line, it’s nice to have some of the bound volumes, too, as I do, thanks to my extremely thoughtful husband.)
Now, the CBC’s Shelagh Rogers has interviewed another interviewer in the most recent edition of The Next Chapter, one of the Canadian network’s programs on books. Rogers’s colleague, Eleanor Wachtel, hosts “Writers And Company” and is one of my favorite interviewers. (I like Rogers, too, as long as she’s not calling great American writers such as Walt Whitman “arrogant” or “immodest.”)
Wachtel has been hosting Writers And Company since 1992. In her interview with Rogers, which begins about 12 minutes from the end of the program, she played an excerpt from an interview with writer, critic, and Yale University professor Harold Bloom. Observing that Bloom’s reputation as a pugnacious reactionary defender of the classics, who disdained anything new, had preceded him and had made her initially unenthusiastic about the interview, Wachtel said that after she prepared for the interview by reading his works, she found, contrary to other reports of Bloom, “an engaging, passionate mind, full of enthusiasm.” So, she decided to ask him about what he loved, and not about what he loathed. On asking him about the value of reading, Bloom audibly teared up on responding that getting letters from people saying that his writing had sent them back to reading, or sent them back to a particular work that had meant a lot to them. (I, too, love the classics, and many modern works as well. Though I haven’t read Bloom’s works, I question whether the suggestion that he disdains anything new is warranted.)
For me, Wachtel and other great interviewers stand out through their genuine interest in and enthusiasm for what their subjects have to say. The same goes for lawyers when they conduct direct and cross-examinations of witnesses at trial: the most effective lawyers, not only in their appearance to judge and jurors but also in the information they elicit, are those who appear to be genuinely interested in and paying close attention to what the witnesses say. (For more on this, see my article in the December 2006 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, “Cross-Examination: Beyond the Perry Mason Moment.”)
What makes an interview worth listening to or reading for you?