New Yorker writer and best-selling author Lawrence Wright says friends often ask him why he lives in Texas. The short answer is it’s home. The long answer is at the heart of his new book, “God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State,” which examines the quirky state where he has lived for most of his life. Wright is the author of 11 books, including “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, and is also a screenwriter and playwright.
BOOKS: Is there a book about Texas you recommend to people?
WRIGHT: The best book about Texas was written by my friend Stephen Harrigan, “The Gates of the Alamo.’’ It’s so evocative of Texas history. The truth is with all the talk about Texan history there aren’t many authoritative books about the state.
BOOKS: Did you discover any books about Texas while researching your own?
WRIGHT: S.C. Gwynne’s “Empire of the Summer Moon” about the Comanche history in Texas. The oil business has produced a number of new books that are pretty intriguing: One is “The Frackers” by Gregory Zuckerman and another is Gary Sernovitz’s “The Green and the Black,” about the conflict between the oil industry and the environmental movement. I went back and read some of the books that I skipped over when I was younger, such as Walter Prescott Webb’s “The Great Frontier” and “The Great Plains.”
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
WRIGHT: I’m asked to blurb so many books it’s rare for me to read a published book. I just finished an interesting book on hostage negotiation by Joel Simon, “We Want to Negotiate.” I also just read the galley of Mimi Swartz’s book, “Ticker,” about the creation of the artificial heart at the Texas Heart Institute. It was not just informative but also thrilling. Over the years I’ve been in and out of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon B. Johnson because I always use it as a reference. I decided to read through the first four volumes before he got the fifth out. I’m midway through the third. He’s such a master of setting scenes and creating meaningful moments.
BOOKS: Do you read fiction?
WRIGHT: It’s very hard for me to find time to read fiction. When I wrote “The Looming Tower” I went five years without reading a novel. At the end of that time, I asked my friends which novel I should read and the consistent [recommendation] was Ian McEwan’s “Atonement.” I loved it. But that’s too long without reading a novel.
BOOKS: Were you more of a novel reader in the past?
WRIGHT: I thought I would be a novelist. That was writing to me, but I couldn’t afford it. I loved Gunter Grass’s “The Tin Drum” and Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men.” That was the great American novel to me with the lushness of the language. It was always attached to reality and closely observed. If I’d have pursued that line of work, I would have steered toward that model.
BOOKS: Were there nonfiction authors who influenced you?
WRIGHT: At the top of the list is George Orwell. I’m not a really great fan of his novels. They don’t call to me the same way his nonfiction does. The clarity of his prose and the depth of his moral commitment are so stirring. In a different vein, A.J. Liebling was a huge influence. There’s a memoir by Ben Hecht, “A Child of the Century,” which is about his adventures in his Chicago newspaper days and as a screenwriter in Hollywood. It’s so exciting. Those three lodestars gave me the idea that nonfiction could be a satisfying literary pursuit.
BOOKS: Do you collect books?
‘I have thousands and thousands of them.’
WRIGHT: Inadvertently. I have thousands and thousands of them. When I start a new project, the first thing I do is order all the books. I stack them up and start going through them. The hard part is weeding them because my working library reflects a long career of varied interest. If I were a specialist I wouldn’t need so much room. Just looking at my terrorism section, I’ve got a lot of books, more than many scholars on the subject. And that’s after weeding them.
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