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Exclusive Interview - Life of Yann Martel
AbeBooks speaks with Booker Prize-winning author Yann Martel


AbeBooks: What books are you currently reading?

Yann Martel: Right now I'm reading The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester which is the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary was created. To be honest, I find most non-fiction not quite as satisfying as a novel. But this is a very interesting story.

A: What's your favorite book or author?

YM: The single most impressive book I've ever read is The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Some classics are dull and lifeless, but I think this work is absolutely astounding. It's chock-a-block full of fascinating stories, portraits of a medieval Italy, and such artistry of language.

A: Are you a book collector? What do you collect, what's your most treasure book?

YM: On the contrary. I'd rather see books circulate. Books that I've used for research for my novels I give away, lend, or trade. I don't value a book as an object. I see it as a means of information or something to be used for research. But as I get older it gets harder to part with books.

My most treasured books are the three volumes of Dante that I mentioned, translated by John Ciardi. Also I would be sad not to have my set of The Complete Short Stories of Franz Kafka, by Franz Kafka. It would hurt me to lose these books. Also, of course when I am traveling there are guide books that I would hate to lose!

As for collecting, to me a signed John Steinbeck has the same value as an unsigned Steinbeck. I'm not certain why people are so interested in signatures. For me it's the book as a means of expression that matters. I sign my books for people as it seems to please them, but I don't understand the fascination.

A. What fictional character from a book, or what author would you most want to have coffee with?

YM: The author Joseph Conrad, to discuss how he wrote and his work, but only if he were well-disposed, in a good mood and willing to chat.

A. What are you working on right now?

YM: I've been so busy since Life of Pi that I'm looking forward to getting my life back. The novel I'm currently writing is a fable featuring a monkey and a donkey that will touch on memory and the Holocaust.

A. What's your fondest memory that involves reading or being read to?

YM: I remember the first time I cried reading a book. It was a novel by Alphone Daudet, an autobiography called Le Petit Chose or "The Little Thing" which was a nickname the author received as a child. It was a heartbreaking story and I remember hiding in the bathroom to sob. It took me by surprise that I could be moved so much by a book. I was ten years old.

Yann Martel is winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize for his novel Life of Pi. He has lived in Alaska, Mexico, France‚ Canada, and Costa Rica‚ and is currently the writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library, in Saskatchewan, Canada.

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