Author Elizabeth Graver Takes the BD Spotlight OR Why You Should Take Your High School English Teacher on a Hot Air Balloon Ride

June 25, 2014

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Elizabeth Graver’s latest book is good. 

Really good. 

So good that it was long-listed for the 2013 National Book Award in Fiction. 

The End of the Point, proves the author’s lyrical prowess, coupled with her ability to trace one family’s experiences over the course of half a century. 

The book is perfect for readers who enjoy narratives that examine families up close, through the course of many years, many wars, and much love.

Below, Graver explains the power of a good teacher, why middle age is a good thing, and what her memorable characters should be reading. 

Describe a teacher who had an impact on you.

I had an English teacher named Seth Bardo at my public high school in Western Massachusetts.  Every morning, he would write a quote from a poem on the board, in his beautiful script.  

At the end of 9th grade, he gave me the collected stories of Flannery O’Connor.  

When I graduated, he gave me the collected poems of Emily Dickinson.  

My senior year, he announced that he was leaving our school to go teach at Philips Exeter Academy (where he still teaches).  

As a farewell present, my friends and I took him out at dawn for a surprise hot air balloon ride over the farm fields of Western Massachusetts.

Seth’s faith in my writing was unwavering, and he was a truly gifted teacher.  

We’re still friends. 

Which writer inspired you to become a writer yourself?

Many beloved books of my childhood captured my imagination in ways that made me want to try making stories myself.  

Among my most cherished ones are: The Little House on the Prairie series, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.

In college, Annie Dillard was my first creative writing teacher: she was brilliant and serious, and her sentences were achingly gorgeous.  

When I took her class, she was very pregnant. I thought to myself, I want to do that: make books, make babies, teach.  

What would you like Book Dumpling readers to know about you?

I’m increasingly slow as a writer. I do a lot of research, and I have found that one of the gifts of middle age is not being in a hurry anymore.  

I want to learn stuff as I’m writing, and I want to get it right.  

Readers who follow my work may have to wait a while for the next book, but I’m plugging away!  

 Do you have any funny stories regarding writing this past book?

A reader e-mailed me after The End of the Point came out to tell me that she had grown up near where my novel was set and that she knew the Porter family well.  

I had to write back and tell her that the Porters in my book are fictional and that I’ve never known anyone who goes by the name Porter!  

I was tickled that my book rang so true to her!

 What is the last, great book that you read and to which type of readers would you recommend it?

I was blown away by Katherine Boo’s non-fiction narrative, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.  It takes the reader deep into a small place and manages, through the most specific, almost microscopic reporting and writing, to speak both to a particular community and to larger systemic issues of poverty, corruption, education, family, and nation.

It’s an enthralling, disturbing, and very important book.

Readers who love to travel both far and deep (through reading) will not put it down. 

 Which one book would you recommend that almost everyone read at least once?

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

 What types of books would you suggest your protagonists read? (Thanks to Jennifer Warren at CBC for this awesome idea).

For Helen in The End of the Point, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

For Bea in The End of the Point, Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn

For Charlie, in The End of the Point, anything by Wendall Berry

 Do you have a favourite bookstore?

I love my local independent bookstore, Newtonville Books; its owners, Mary Cotton and Jaime Clarke, are great friend to readers and writers alike.  

Perhaps my favorite bookstore of all time is Shakespeare & Company, the iconic English language bookstore in Paris.  

In the late 1980’s, I was living in Paris and found my Anglophone writers’ group from a listing on a bulletin board in Shakespeare & Company.  

Young writers passing through can sleep upstairs in the store and work for their room and board.  

The space is windy, narrow, packed from floor to ceiling with books.

 E-reader or the real thing?

At home, the real thing. Sometimes e-books when I’m traveling.

 What advice would give to an aspiring author (regardless of age)?

Get off-line.

Let your mind wander.

Find a deep quiet where your own thoughts and passions can rise up.

Don’t feel like you can only write about yourself.

Stretch.

 Tell us a little bit about the book that has a soft spot in your heart.

There’s a children’s chapter book that I read again and again with my daughters when they were younger.  

Originally published in the 1920’s, it’s called The Wind Boy, by Ethel Cook Eliot.  

I associate it with magic and with childhood, and the mother is an artist which, of course, I like!

 If you could add one book to the high school curriculum, which one would it be?

Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction 

Which contemporary book will become a classic in 50 years?

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Home.  I’m excited for her new book, Lila, which comes out this fall and is about the same world.   

 

 

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