Brief Interviews is a new series in which writers discuss language, literature, and a handful of Proustian personality questions.
Joyce Carol Oates is the author of over 40 novels, including the National Book Award-winningthem. She's a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, and teaches creative writing at Princeton University. Her latest novel, Carthage [Ecco, $26.99], was published this month.
Where do you like to read?
Virtually anywhere that is comfortable, though preferably near a fireplace, with a cat purring nearby.
What did you want to be when you grew up (besides an author)?
I had always expected to be a teacher—but could not have foreseen that I would be a university professor at such distinguished universities as Princeton, UC-Berkeley, and NYU.
What's the best thing about being a writer?
I may need a while to consider this.
What are the most important elements of a good story?
Only one important element—that it is engaging, and that a reader feels compelled to read it.
What bothers you most about the English language today?
Why would anyone be "bothered" about the English language?
What's your favorite word? Why?
No favorite word.
What is your least favorite word? Why?
No least favorite word.
If you could have any 5 dinner guests, dead or alive, fictional or non-, who would they be?
Five Trappist monks, living or dead, who, having taken a vow of silence, would be very easy to get along with. Probably they don't eat much, so dinner could be brief.
What word or phrase do you overuse?
What is your most prized possession?
Who are your literary heroes?
You have to admire Moby Dick for the way he dispatches the murderous whale-hunters of the Pequod.
What is the first book you truly loved?
Alice in Wonderland
Which classic have you not yet read? Do you intend to read it?
Finnegans Wake. Probably not.
If you could only recommend one book, which would it be?
Finnegans Wake. So that someone, if not I, would read it.
Do you prefer print or e-books?
What, if anything, do you read while you're working on a project?
I read widely & constantly—it is not such a rarity for me that I can enumerate what I read.
Do you have a favorite sentence from a book? What is it?