Author prefers a long report to a short story

When Brenda Wineapple began writing “The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation,” President Obama was still in office. She never dreamed her book about the first American president to be impeached would ever be as timely as it has become. The award-winning author, who was born in Boston and lives in New York City, has written biographies, poetry and literary criticism. This is her ninth book. She will discuss it at 7 p.m. on Tuesday  at Harvard Book Store.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

WINEAPPLE:The Mueller Report.” It’s not exactly a page-turner, but I go back to it when I’m traveling because it’s so fascinating. We get a lot of the report handed to us by journalists and pundits. I thought the experience of reading it would be personal, which reading always is. That is why I like reading. I also recently read a wonderful book by Deborah Eisenberg, “Your Duck is my Duck.” The prose is terrific. Generally I don’t like short stories so that’s saying something.


BOOKS: Why don’t you like short stories?

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WINEAPPLE: It’s a very silly reason. They are too short. As soon as I get involved it’s over. That’s very frustrating to me. If I’m going to read fiction I want to read a longer novel. I’m happier with George Eliot or “Moby Dick.”

BOOKS: What are some of your other favorite long novels?

WINEAPPLE: I go to the 19th century for long reads, such as Henry James’s “The Portrait of a Lady,” which is so wonderful. Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” which I read late. That was exciting to read it as an adult because I got more out of it. In the 20th-century I certainly love Virginia Wolf. Her novels aren’t that long, but long enough. “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse” are amazing books because you feel she’s connecting directly to you. 

BOOKS: Do you have books stacked by your bed?


WINEAPPLE: I have “Dreyer’s English” by Benjamin Dreyer, which is a hoot, and a wonderful novel “Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo that I just read. I’ve got a book on philosophy, Bernard Williams’s “Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy” and Robert Graves’s “The Long Week-End.” There are eight to ten books. It’s rickety. 

BOOKS: Were you a reader of biographies before you started writing them?

WINEAPPLE: Not at all. I wasn’t because I was a snob. I thought it was an inferior form of literature. It was something my grandmother had on her bedside table so I thought it was jut popular stuff. Then I began to read them and realized it could be a fascinating form.

BOOKS: What’s the first biography that turned you on to the genre?

WINEAPPLE: Aileen Ward wrote a book many years ago on John Keats. I found it so moving that I visited John Keats house when I was in England. 


BOOKS: What do you read for you research for “The Impeachers” that you would recommend?

‘[Short stories] are too short.’

WINEAPPLE: The journalistic work of Mark Twain. He was an acerbic, witty, deeply brilliant purveyor of current events. The other person who was amazing was Georges Clemenceau, who later became the premier of France. There’s a fascinating collection of his journalism called “American Reconstruction: 1865-1870.” As a young reporter he covered the United States right after the Civil War for the French. It’s so prescient.

BOOKS: Do you still read biographies?

WINEAPPLE: Truth be told, I don’t read as much biography as I used to. I think that unless they are inventive with the structure I don’t want to bother. 

BOOKS: What do you think of the recent wave of fictionalized biographies of historical figures? 

WINEAPPLE: I reviewed Charles Frazier’s “Varina,” which is based on Jefferson Davis’s wife. I thought it would be grating but it was structured very well. He used an aspect of her life we don’t know anything about, her relationship with this young, black orphan. But generally, if I’m reading about these figures I want to know what they did rather than someone’s take on them, which, in a sense, seems to cannibalize them. 

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’’ and she can be reached at