Host, “The Reading Life”
GREG MILES PHOTOGRAPH
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing: Susan Larson loves books. The host of WWNO’s “The Reading Life,” the nearly five-year-old radio show detailing all aspects of New Orleans’ literary scene, loves them both as objects and for what they contain. Her Uptown home is famously filled with them. But she also keeps up with the times – after once denouncing the Kindle; she now owns two of the e-readers – and loves a good Scandinavian crime novel. She is a writer herself, having penned two editions of the Booklover’s Guide to New Orleans – not to mention her past life as a romance novelist. We met at a coffee shop where naturally, she had just finished a book.
Q: Were you always a big reader? Yes, from the very beginning of my life. I thought I’d never have enough books, and now I have too many.
Q: Do you still read a book every day? I do. I have to, really, because it’s my job. When I read in my house I don’t listen to music, I don’t watch TV, I don’t answer the phone, I don’t look online until I’ve finished the book. That’s really all I do. Because that’s the only way I can concentrate – except for the dog.
Usually I can read one (book) in the morning and one in the afternoon. I was the judge for the Putlizers for a few years, and I had to read 300 books in six months. You get really focused and you learn to read like it’s your religion.
Q: Do you still keep up with what’s going on nationally in books? I know what’s going on nationally because you have to. And so many national authors are coming to New Orleans, which is great for us. But locally, it’s so interesting to me you can do 52 shows a year with local authors. It’s that big a scene. Of course one of the things I like is to do more than just authors. I talk to the people who are making the festivals happen, or there’s a whole new wave of book artists coming to town.
I’m so interested in (book artists). My son jokes: “Mom, you’re fetishizing books!” I am – so what’s wrong with that? I literally love them as objects. So I’ve started taking book-binding classes at Baskerville in the Marigny, which is this wonderful printing arts and letterpress studio.
It’s a lot of fun talking to them, people who approach books in different ways. “The Reading Life” is more than just writing and reading; it’s going out and going to book signings. I’m lucky. We’re all lucky!
Q: You once wrote romance novels. In the very beginning. When I had kids I thought, I want to stay home and write. So my best friend and I wrote 10 romance novels together in two years. And it was a very useful discipline and a way to learn how to write, because there’s a formula. You follow the formula, and you knew you had to write so many pages. If we were working on a book and it took us longer than six weeks to write, we knew we were in big trouble. They weren’t very hard books to write, but I have no desire to write them again.
Q: Since you’ve interviewed so many writers, what advice have you picked up about how to be a successful writer? It’s hard these days because things are changing so quickly. The writers who write successfully know what to do. They know they have to read a lot. They know they have to have a distinctive voice. They know they have to write every day. It’s hard to start out now because there are so many books being published, and there are so many ways to publish them. And I think a lot of writers underestimate the value of good editing, especially in some of the self-published books or e-books. But it all remains the same: Read, find your voice and write every day.
Q: Do you have any guilty pleasure books? I’m a junkie for Scandinavian crime fiction – like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books. I collect antique gardening books and antique books about tattoos, because tattoos fascinate me. So those are kind of my guilty pleasures. But I used to have that as a question when I wrote for (The Times-Picayune), and I’d ask people what their guilty pleasure was. And people would write me the most horrible things: “Why should there be any kind of guilty pleasure? Why should anyone feel guilty?” But you know what I mean. There are some things you should read just for fun.
Q: There are a lot of books that become popular, like Fifty Shades of Grey, that I’m judgemental of; but I think, “Well, at least people are reading...” Exactly. Better to read a cereal box than nothing.
Age: 64 Born/raised: Salina, Kansas/Texas City, Texas Education: Rice University, University of Houston Family members names: Daughter Casey, son Dash, dog Wilson Pickett Favorite movie: “All time? Harvey. This summer? Mr. Holmes and The End of the Tour.” Favorite TV show: “Game of Thrones,” “Masters of Sex,” “Masterpiece Mystery” Favorite hobby: Glittering Muses shoes, studying bookbinding Favorite restaurant: High Hat, Upperline Favorite food: Pie, oysters, Champagne Favorite book: “All time? Jane Eyre! Right now? Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels!” Favorite vacation spot: Grayton Beach, Florida
Oh, I’m pretty much an open book. But Halloween – my favorite holiday – is on the way, and I do love popping up here and there as my truly witchy self. I have an impressive collection of seasonal hats. And brooms.