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Home > Blog > March 2007 > Take Five with....Colum McCann

Colum McCann will read with John Banville tomorrow night (March 13) at the Central Library at 7:00 p.m. for FREE. His most recent work, Dancer, is a fictional biography that has received much critical acclaim. Mr. McCann took a few moments to speak with the Free Library Blog and answer our most pressing questions.

1. What role have libraries played in your life?

"They've played an extraordinary part in my creative life -- so much so, in fact, that my new novel is dedicated to librarians, not just those at the New York Public Library but librarians everywhere. Libraries are my imagination's living room. I sound like I'm playing to the crowd, but I'm not. I've been saying this for a long time. I quite honestly feel that librarians are among the unsung heroes of the literary world. I've often gone into libraries and come out changed, renewed, charged, jazzed. I rely on librarians not just for short-cuts but for guidance too. And I love the notion of being among so many books. You sit in a library and you suddenly realise that you are part of an eternal source of stories. And stories are the human democracy. Everybody has one. Everybody needs one. Libraries seem to me to be at the heart of any democratic process. In the acklowdgement sections of my last three novels I have paid tribute to libraries and the people behind them. I am enormously grateful."

2. What was your favorite childhood book?

"There was a book by Mary Lavin called The Second Best Children in the World. I was seven years old when I read it (in 1972). It was a book that my father, a journalist in Dublin, brought home to me. He and my mother read at my bedside, but I can still remember it. The memory of it is like bread coming out of the oven.

The story that Lavin conjured up (about Ben "who’s ten," and Kate "who’s eight," and Matt, who is “so small that I can hardly see him at all”) was extraordinarily powerful to me. The kids decide that - in order to give their parents a rest - they will go on a long trip around the world. As they don’t want to wear out the soles of their shoes, they walk always on their heels, but soon their shoes grow too small for them. They return home, having grown up, but Lavin doesn’t treat it as a moment of terror or loss. Instead, the parents come running from the house with open arms and call them the “best children in the world.” The kids disagree. The best children, they say, never would have left in the first place. And so they’re the second best - and gladly so.

When I re-read it recently, I was taken aback by how much I remembered of the book. It heartened me to return. So I read it to my own kids. But we can't expect the world to repeat its longings and desires. They liked it, yes, but they have other favourites. My daughter who's 10 reads a book a day now. And my son, John Michael, is enthralled with Horrid Henry books."

3. Who is your favorite fictional character?

"Perhaps the person I have just now glanced at in the street."

4. Who are the three authors you think everyone should be required to read-which books would you start with?

"I don't see any necessary hierarchy. There's a lot of high-falutin' horse**** talked about books that should be read. Eventually I think that the books we need to read will find us. What we need to do is to learn to love the first ones that we do read. If you absolutely twisted my arm I would say that everyone should take a stab at Joyce (starting with Dubliners). I had a magical experience with Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby when I was a teenager. And there's a book called Stoner by John Williams which is a hidden American masterpiece."

5. If you couldn’t write, what other job would you like to have?

"Films. Movies. Some other sort of story-telling. But if I couldn't write I'd be silenced in such a strange way that I fear what I would become."

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