Today we are featuring Chris Bohjalian’s interview with us in celebration of National Library Week!!!
Mr. Bohjalian is such a wonderful writer. This Easter weekend, I sat on my grandmother’s sun-drenched porch in Vermont, picked up the local newspaper and started reading Chris Bohjalian’s weekly column. It was about the Titanic and I was able to spend a blissful few moments reading a humorous column that was coupled with an in-depth history lesson. He is always painting beautiful scenes with his words. I hope you enjoy this interview with thoughts on why libraries are important to our communities as much as I did.
Bohjalian’s upcoming book The Sandcastle Girls is out this July. To request a digital RC from Edelweiss click here.
RH LIBRARY: Why are libraries important?
CHRIS BOHJALIAN: We all understand on some level that there is something sacred about a book made of paper – even now in the digital age. So, a roomful of books – especially a roomful of shared books, of books that been savored and read and literally touched by one’s neighbors – is particularly magical.
Libraries today are indeed rooms full of books. But they are more than that, too. They’re community centers. It doesn’t matter if they have carefully planned programs for adults – world travelers with their photos from Nepal, chefs with their recipes for ginger pumpkin mouse – or well-orchestrated story hours for toddlers. It doesn’t matter if they offer adult literacy programs or seminars on estate planning. They’re still magnets for human contact. Moreover, they are multigenerational: How many places are there where seniors and toddlers and high school students all interact? That is, in part, why libraries remain vital and vibrant today.
RH LIBRARY: What was the best book you remember checking out of the library and loving?
CHRIS BOHJALIAN: When I was 13, my family moved from a suburb of New York City to Miami, Florida, and we moved there the Friday before Labor Day weekend. I started school the following Tuesday, and then, that afternoon, went to see my new orthodontist—a sadist, it would turn out, if ever there was one.
He gave me some orthodontic headgear that looked like the business end of a backhoe, and I had to wear said device for four hours a day when I was awake. Since I couldn’t (well, wouldn’t) wear it during school, I had to wear it after school. It was inevitable, but I couldn’t speak when I was wearing it.
And so what did I do that first autumn and winter—winter, such as it is, in South Florida? I went to the Hialeah Miami Lake Public Library and I read. I read the sorts of things any adolescent boy was likely to read in the mid-1970s. I read William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” and Peter Benchley’s “Jaws.” And, in all fairness, I read a somewhat higher caliber of literature as well: Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Joyce Carol Oates’s “Expensive People.”
I read those books in the library as well as in the den in our new home, and from them I learned a very great deal that would help me profoundly as an adult writer. I learned the importance of linear momentum in plot from Blatty and Benchley. I learned about the importance of voice — and the role of person in fiction – from Lee and Oates.
I learned on a level that may not have been fully concrete yet—but that did indeed adhere—that the narrator in a first-person novel is a character, too, and every bit as made-up as the fictional constructs around him or her.
RH LIBRARY: If you were a character in a book who would you be?
CHRIS BOHJALIAN: Well, I would want that person to be alive and happy at the end of the story, so that immediately eliminates a lot of my favorite characters from novels. I really don’t want to end up dead in my swimming pool a la Jay Gatsby or burned beyond recognition a la the English Patient. And it might be nice to be young. And, perhaps, to have learned something in the course of my story – to have grown as a person.
So, I am going to pick the ten-year-old narrator of Patrick Dennis’s hilarious and underappreciated 1964 tale of one Manhattan family’s near implosion – and Mom and Dad’s near divorce – “The Joyous Season.” The novel is narrated by the family’s acerbic, insightful, and precocious ten-year-old son, Kerry (which, he tells us, “is short for Kerrington, for cripes sake”). Imagine Holden Caulfield with a sense of humor.
I first read the book when I was in sixth grade, and I’ve re-read it three or four times since. It has never disappointed me – and neither has Kerry.
RH LIBRARY: Is there anything you’d like to share with librarians about your current book?
CHRIS BOHJALIAN: The book I have arriving on July 17, “The Sandcastle Girls,” is the most important book I have ever written – and I do not say that as pre-publication hyperbole.
It is about – as my fictional narrator says – “the Slaughter you know next to nothing about.” She is referring to the Armenian Genocide in the midst of the First World War. Roughly 1,500,000 people would perish – including three of my four Armenian great-grandparents.
And yet I loved writing this novel because I cared so deeply about the characters. It ended up being a big, sweeping, historical love story: The tale of an Armenian-American novelist at mid-life, who embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.
If you would like to enter our Chris Bohjalian Book Giveaway simply fill out our entry form.
Chris Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Double Bind, The Night Strangers, and Skeletons at the Feast. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.