Reading With... Avi

photo: Katherine Warde

Avi (a name given him by his twin sister) was born and raised in New York City. Though he still thinks of himself as a New Yorker, he lives in Colorado, high in the Rocky Mountains (8,900 feet up) in a log house in a forest. He's the author of more than 60 books for children and young adults, including The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing but the Truth (both Newbery Honor books), Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Newbery Award winner), Poppy (Boston Globe–Horn Book Award) and, most recently, The Unexpected Life of Oliver Cromwell Pitts and The Player King (due out October 17 from Richard Jackson/Atheneum).

On your nightstand now:

Keeping in mind that I write a lot of historical fiction, my current reading is based on the project in hand: Tobacco Colony by Gloria Lund Main; Tobacco Coast by Arthur Pierce Middleton; Colonial American English by Richard M. Lederer, Jr.; The Sot-weed Factor by John Barth; The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; The Fortunate Transport: or, the Secret History of the Life and Adventures of the Celebrated Polly Haycock, the Lady of the Gold Watch. By a Creole.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My mother was very interested in children's books and supplied us with the best, everything from And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street to The Story of Ferdinand, Treasure Island and The Wind in the Willows. I was read to every night, became a voracious reader and a constant user of the public library (to which I could walk) and local used bookstores, where I could (and did) buy the animal stories of Thornton W. Burgess for 25 cents--the first novels I read on my own.

Your top five authors:

Charles Dickens, Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Chandler and C.C. Beck. I think they are self-explanatory, but C.C. Beck, as he was known, was the creator of Captain Marvel at Fawcett Comics and DC Comics. His hero, Billy Batson, was a boy my age. In an abandoned New York City subway tunnel, Billy learned to say "Shazam!" and thereby turned into the super-hero Captain Marvel, with a sense of humor. I was a true addict of comic books and radio drama.

Book you've faked reading:

Rather, classic books I tried to read but couldn't get through: Middlemarch, Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Unstrung Harp by Edward Gorey. I'm not aware of any book that captures the essential life of the writer as does this book. Truthful and hilarious, it should be on the desk of anyone who desires to write.

Book you've bought for the cover:

In 1986, the Franklin Library published the Franklin Library of Mystery Masterpieces. Among them was The Maltese Falcon. Jennifer Dossin designed the book with an art deco-style cover by Ralph C. Bienert.

Book you hid from your parents:

I have no memory of my parents ever monitoring, much less censoring, what I read. Consequently, I never hid any reading from my folks.

Books that changed your life:

The American Past: A History of the United States from Concord to the Great Society (an illustrated history of the United States) by Roger Butterfield came into our home when first published, 1947. It made history truly vivid for me, so that I became a lifelong reader of history. I still have that copy. I don't know when I first read A Christmas Carol but I read it once a year and have never failed to be moved by the writing and its message--to care for others. Simplistic, perhaps, but so vital in today's world. Stevenson's Treasure Island was, and is, the quintessential historical fiction for boys. The Maltese Falcon introduced me to the dazzling brilliance of noir fiction, firecracker dialogue and wonderful characters: the universe of detective fiction. I saw the New York production (with Lotte Lenya) of Brecht and Weill's The Threepenny Opera when I was aspiring to be a playwright. Its social criticism, its cynicism, and its acid realism stunned and inspired me.

Favorite line from a book:

"Marley was dead: to begin with."

Five books you'll never part with:

The American Past by Roger Butterfield
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson

Book that was a guilty pleasure:

Robert B. Parker. The Spenser novels.

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