The OLC just wrapped up an exclusive interview with Jamie Ford where he talks about his favorite books and the role of public libraries.
OLC: What piece of literature had the biggest impact on your life?
Ford: Deathbird Stories by Harlan Ellison. It was banned from my high school library, so naturally I went to the public library and read it cover to cover. That was the first time I realized books had the power to cause grown-ups to go absolutely banana-pants. You could say, without hyperbole, that Harlan is the writer who made me want to write. A few years ago I bought his first typewriter, a 1938 Remington Noiseless Portable, forged in the fires of Mount Doom.
OLC: Did you visit the public library when you were growing up? What was your opinion of it? Is it the same today or has it changed?
Ford: I grew up in the public library. I was a bit of a latch-key kid, so after school I’d walk to this lovely Carnegie Library and read books until my mom would pick me up around five. Later, as a senior in high school, I walked out of the SAT test (long story). I went to the public library and waited for my friends. The first time I went to NYC, I went straight to the Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library to find a quiet space (hard to find in Manhattan). I even met my wife at the public library.
OLC: How can public libraries address cultural and racial biases in our society? Are there any programs that you think libraries could put in place to help eliminate cultural stereotypes and promote diversity and inclusion?
Ford: Lately public libraries have been doing a great job of helping readers get out of their comfy reading lanes—to help patrons (or their book clubs) read someone with a different cultural point of view. I also see programming where authors and presenters are brought in for their unique cultural or historical perspective. I love that. Learning about other cultures exercises our empathy muscles and makes our communities more appreciative of one another. That’s why I write what I write. I don’t think of myself as an author, but as someone in the compassion creation business. And lately there’s been a shortage.
OLC: What book(s) would you recommend to someone visiting the library?
Ford: The Great Santini by Pat Conroy
Pat once said, “The greatest gift a writer can ever receive is an unhappy childhood.” If you’ve ever read The Great Santini, My Losing Season, or The Prince of Tides, you’ll know that for Pat, growing up was Christmas every day. I discovered Santini as a teenager and it was salve for the scars my own father left on my psyche.
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin
Another self-revelatory read, this is one of those profound novels that changes the way we remember those closest to us—the way we loved them, or the way we took them hopelessly for granted. You have to be a certain age to fully appreciate this book. (And you get extra credit for having lost a parent).
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
In looking at this list I’m betraying the sense of brokenness I felt as a young man. What can I say? Even as an adult I still love a beautiful, steaming cup of melancholy. This book shattered my heart and put the pieces back together again in better working condition.
An Edge in My Voice by Harlan Ellison
Another book by Uncle Harlan! This hard-to-find collection of essays was my go-to book as an aspiring writer in my 30s. It’s a master class on writing with an authentic voice—painful, angry, and evocative, with equal parts arrogance and vulnerability. I used to haunt a local bookstore, late at night, reading this book when my world was on fire.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
These days I’m in a guys’ book club called Books & Brews and each year we try to add at least one graphic novel to our middle-aged reading repertoire. This is my favorite and one I’m always pushing––a poignant graphic memoir about first love, and loss.
The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
This massively award-winning short story by Ken Liu is the centerpiece of this amazing collection. The Paper Menagerie beautifully encapsulates the hopeful, sacrificial dynamic between a parent and child.
Cue the music from The Lion King. That’s my life in books. I’m outta here.