Reading Habits: Jim Lynch

The author on the luxury of reading in the daylight, the underappreciated brilliance of “All the King’s Men,” and more.

Reading Habits is a recurring series that asks authors, artists, community leaders, and others about their lives as readers. Jim Lynch is the author of four novels including Truth Like the Sun, which was picked by New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin as one of her 10 favorite books of 2012; Border Songs, which won the Washington State Book Award; The Highest Tide (2005), and his latest, Before the Wind, released in April.


A book you’re reading right now. 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Also, Earning the Rockies by Robert D. Kaplan. Both are terrific.

Your favorite place to read. 

Wherever natural light is best. To me, it is a luxury and a treat to read in the daylight, fully awake, espresso or beer at my side.

You’re banished to a desert island. For reading material you’re allowed to take the complete works of just one author. Who is it?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. His body of work isn’t all that large but I could re-read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera indefinitely, and then snack on his twisting short stories or try once again to read his more obtuse and political novels. Either that or perhaps I’d just gorge on every sentence Steinbeck wrote.

A book you’ve read more than once.

Oh there are so many. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Jitterbug Perfume, The Color Purple, etc. I think I’ve read The Great Gatsby eight times, and I’m looking forward to the next reading, especially those final six pages.

A book that changed your life in a significant way.

First there was Where the Red Fern Grows, which taught me empathy. Six years later, at age 16, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which made me realize how suburbanized I was, and how it was possible, even in jail, to reinvent yourself, to educate and transform yourself, which felt like something I needed to do at the time.

A book that was better than the movie.

The better, harder question is—name a movie that was better than the book. We all see the same movies. But the same books are very different experiences. It’s that collaboration of the reader’s and the writer’s imagination that make great books so satisfying.

A book you found too disturbing to finish.

A Clockwork Orange. As a rowdy teenager, I found the language and material exciting and addictive. But violence for the fun of it alarmed and repulsed me so much that I had to abandon it.

Do you read with music on? If so, what kind?

I read and write to lyric-free jazz. Miles Davis. Coltrane. Herbie Hancock, Irvin Mayfield. I often wish I could attach soundtracks to my novels.

A book you think should be considered a classic, but isn’t.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. It won the Pulitzer but so few people have read it, and it is so rarely taught. Such a brilliant mix of politics and poetry and just the seductive pull of truth and language. Others? Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.

Where you buy most of your books.

Browsers Bookshop in Olympia, Elliott Bay Books and Third Place Books in Seattle.

Are you a library user? If so, what’s your favorite?

Olympia’s Timberland Library for checking out books. Seattle’s downtown branch for writing and people watching.

A genre you think is underappreciated.

Offbeat dramas that capture the humor and sadness and wonder of life. (That was my best stab at describing my own “genre.”)

What you’re holding when you read: a paper book or an e-reader. Why?

Always a paper book and with a pen or pencil in hand to mark it up and remind myself which passages to study or re-read. I often write my review of the book to myself on those final blank pages. If I love the book, I will never part with it.


Frankel will be reading an original short story as part of Humanities Washington’s Bedtime Stories fundraiser in Seattle on October 6. Tickets and more information is available here.

Humanities Washington

Get the latest news and event information from Humanities Washington, including updates on Think & Drink and Speakers Bureau events.