Richard Price talks about getting off drugs, getting out of Hollywood and his new novel, based on the Susan Smith case.
Rumpled black leather jacket, stained sweatshirt, flyaway hair,
impressively dark circles under his eyes — if Dustin Hoffman had gone into
prizefighting, he’d look something like Richard Price. As the 49-year-old
writer stalks around a downtown Manhattan cafe looking for coffee, what he
really looks like, however, is this: an aging version of one of the walking
time bomb greasers in “The Wanderers,” his slashing first book.
Price still has the look, but he’s come a long way from the
Parkside Projects in the northeast Bronx. His ticket out was “The
Wanderers” (1974), a series of surreal, swaggering takes on urban teen
life, published when he was 24. He followed up that success with two
more well-received novels — “Bloodbrothers” in 1976, “Ladies’ Man” in 1978
– before a much-publicized cocaine habit, and a shaken sense of his own
talent, dragged him into a long, hard funk. “I wasn’t even that big of a
doper,” he says now. “I was definitely bush league. But enough that it sort
of preoccupied me for three years.”
Price climbed out of his literary funk, if not his drug habit, by going
Hollywood. He quickly became an A-list screenwriter, churning out such work
as “The Color of Money,” “Sea of Love” and “Ransom.” “[Screenwriting] kept
me in the writing game, and it also showed me I was able to write about
things that were not connected to my autobiography,” he says. “Because
before that I felt like the only things I could really write about were
things I’d been through. I was 32 years old and on my fourth autobiography.
You wonder, how bored can you get?”
Fiction remains Price’s first love, however, and his talents are undimmed.
In 1994 he published “Clockers,” an adept, sprawling and deeply humane tale
of life amid the urban crack wars. He returns to that same blighted
landscape — and consolidates the fictional gains he made in “Clockers” –
in his new novel, “Freedomland.” The book, an urban spin on the Susan Smith
kidnapping case, is about what happens when a woman is carjacked while her
young son is sleeping in the back seat. The child goes missing, and a series
of acidly drawn characters is sucked into the tale — notably an affable
community-based cop named Lorenzo and an aggressive local journalist named
Jesse, who fights to get the woman’s story. Price’s stark, neon-lit prose,
more than the tale itself, is what puts “Freedomland” over the top; he
rarely wastes a word.
Price, who lives in New York with his wife, downtown artist Judy
Hudson, and their two daughters, spoke with Salon recently about
“Freedomland” and a host of other topics — Rudy Giuliani’s urban policies,
the allure of screenwriting and the idiosyncrasies of raising kids in New
York City. After he’d gotten a few cups of coffee into his gut, he seemed
like a genuinely nice guy.
You’re famous for the research you do before writing your books. Did you
do much for “Freedomland”?
You know, on “Clockers” I ran with cops, but this time I sort of ran with
police shack reporters.
What’s a “police shack” reporter?
You know, guys whose newspapers are given offices in One Police Plaza.
Whoever’s in charge of public relations for the police says, “All right, we
got something going out there.” And these guys will run out — Kennedy
Airport, the Bronx, around the corner. I really liked it. I also ran around
with a lot of reporters down in South Carolina when Susan Smith confessed.
How did you happen to be down there?
I don’t know. I didn’t even realize I was following the story in New York,
and then something happened. When they said she confessed, it retroactively
hit me: “Oh, that’s that lady that was telling everybody, ‘Please help me
find my son.’” I never did this before, but I jumped on a plane and went
down to Charlotte and rented a car and went down to Union, S.C.
I was nervous because I had no idea what to do. But fortunately I ran into
a couple of reporters from New York and Boston who either recognized me or
I recognized them, and I struck up a couple of situational friendships. And
I ran with these guys and saw how they did their work. It was like
discovering cops like I did on “Sea of Love” — wow man, you go with these
people and you get into all kinds of shit. And it’s great, you get paid for
it, and you’re not even responsible. They’re doing it and you’re just
hanging on. It’s fun. When I got back to New York, I ran into a couple of
guys from the Daily News, and so I’m running around with them.
Then I hooked up with this freelance video crew. They just prowl the
streets with a police radio from 11 o’clock at night until dawn because
all the TV news stations pack up their own crews at 11. So what they do
is, they hear there’s a fire in the Navy yard and they’re on the phone to
Channel 5, to Channel 9, to Channel 11, “All right, we’re on our way to the
fire, can we get a precommitment on the footage?” They’re like kamikazes,
making the deal as they’re going. And once they’re there, they are the
hardest guys to keep out. Because they’re, like, nuts. They should have
bandannas with Japanese writing on them.
Then, as I was going to one of these things in the middle of the night in
Brooklyn, all these guys looked at this reporter for one of the tabloids –
whose name I’ll leave out — they looked at him with awe and reverence.
Because this guy was 10 times more nuts than they were. I mean, this guy
does not comprehend the word “no” in any language or any gesture. So I went
over and introduced myself and he had heard of “Clockers,” so I started
running with this guy out of the police shack. That’s how I got [my
character] Jesse, basically. This guy was a dynamo. He did some of his own
writing, but basically he dumped this stuff into the phone to his editor
for rewrite. And he just kept going, just kept going. And I really related
to that, because it was like when I was running around with the cops on
“Clockers,” with the crime scene units. Couldn’t wait for the phone to
ring — what’s happenin’, what’s happenin’. I realized, it’s a way of life.
Writing doesn’t even count, it’s just being there, getting there, seeing
this stuff. Doing something with it.
The whole point of doing all this research, by the way, is not to use it so
much as to throw it away. Because you feel like, “All right, I know the
parameters of reality. Now I feel confident to make stuff up.” I try to
scramble a lot of stuff. I emerge with characters that are three quarters
in my head and one quarter what I saw.
You mentioned the Susan Smith case. Your book has obvious parallels to
Well, the whole thing was sort of triggered by the Susan Smith case. I
can’t really hide that.
Were you as shocked as everyone else when she confessed?
Like a lot of other people, I didn’t realize that I sort of semi-knew she
was lying all along. You don’t even know you’re aware of it. Sort of like
driving and daydreaming. All of a sudden you come to and it’s 10 minutes
later and you’re still on the road, and hey, somebody’s been driving. I’d
been following it without even realizing it. And when she confessed, I had
this retroactive thing like, “I knew that! I knew that all along.”
As with the Susan Smith case, there’s a racial aspect to the apparent
kidnapping in “Freedomland.” In both situations, a black man is accused of
taking a white child, and the media goes crazy over it.
I don’t think Susan Smith was an active racist. In fact, when I went to her
sentencing trial, the defense brought all these black female prison guards
– she had been in prison for a while at the time of the sentencing — and
they came up to say that she didn’t seem like a redneck or a cracker or a
racist or anything. And I don’t really think she was, any more than anybody
else who lives in that part of the country. But it’s just like a cultural
reflex. The whole point is that, if you’re a black guy reading the Daily
News and somebody said, “There’s a jack by a black guy,” you’d probably
believe it too. It’s numbers. Police have said there’s more white drug
addicts than black drug addicts in this country, which surprises a lot of
people. But in terms of in the city — urban, random crime — you say a
black guy did it, who’s gonna argue with that?
Do you see a way to shake this double standard? The white kid goes
missing and it’s front page news and the black kid goes missing and it’s a
There is no way around it. It sells newspapers. This is what people want to
hear. I mean, you had three kids kidnapped up in Harlem from a playground a
couple of years ago, it barely got ink. When black people get killed in the
city, the only way it’s going to wind up in the papers is if it’s not in a
black neighborhood and they were wearing a suit, or if there was at least
three of them.
Is that some kind of rule?
I don’t know. All I can tell you is this: When I ran around with the crime
scene unit, we responded to homicides in all five boroughs. I’d seen maybe
30, 40 murders. The only time I ever saw news people there was when the
victim was white. And of course the victim is white maybe 10 percent of
the time, 5 percent of the time. That’s the other myth — people feel
like these black criminals are so dangerous, and that [whites] are the
victims. The greatest victim of black crime is black people. I mean, people
don’t leave their neighborhood to do what they’re going to do.
“Freedomland” is set in New Jersey, not in New York City, but were you
tempted, this time out, to take on Rudy Giuliani’s urban policies?
All I know about politics is what I read in the paper. I don’t really have
any extracurricular interest in Giuliani. I have opinions — but I’m not
politically active in any way.
Do you have any take on Giuliani’s policies? What he’s doing right,
Well, here’s a guy whose statistics are all good, but I don’t really know
enough to know if it’s him or if it’s stuff that Dinkins implemented — or
if it’s just the fact that crack has more or less gone away. Stuff happens,
he takes the credit and blames the other administration. The other
administration says, “This is all the stuff that we implemented, and now
it’s coming to bear fruit and he’s catching the fruit right up.”
This book is to some degree about children — how they affect people’s
lives and their choices. Now that you have kids, are you shy about doing
some of the things you used to do, in terms of reporting?
The only thing I wouldn’t do with them as a factor is … I don’t feel good
disappearing for a couple of days. But it’s not like what I do is so
dangerous that I think about my children being fatherless or something like
that. It’s really an exaggeration of the “you are there” element of it.
Your children, I would guess, have a pretty different life than you had
as a child in the Bronx. How much do you want them to know about the
tougher aspects of life in New York City today?
It depends how you tell them about stuff, and how old they are. But I
basically want them to know everything. I don’t want to tell them anything
prematurely, where they won’t be able to understand something but it’ll
freak ‘em out to hear it. The whole thing is to ask, “When is it
appropriate?” Drugs are becoming an issue, so now’s the time to talk about
how bad life was on drugs. My girls are 11 and 13 — you know it’s an
issue, it’s a real issue. And I have something to say on the subject. I
wouldn’t tell them that when they were 7, you know.
How much of a toll did drugs take on you?
Well, I bounced back in every kind of way. There was no permanent damage.
It still haunts me. And I wasn’t even that big of a doper. I was definitely
bush league. But enough that it preoccupied me for three years. I still
think about what it was like. It’s scary. I think most people can bounce
back from a stupid drug habit. I would say the majority of people that I
know who went through something bad with that are here to talk about it and
are in better shape than they were even before they were doing it. Age’ll
do that to you. You don’t have the elasticity. The price is too high.
You’ve spoken about drugs to high school students. What can you say to a
kid about them, or about smoking, that won’t rebound on you — that won’t
make them want to do it even more?
I’m not a crusader, but I’m happy to do it. These kids at the junior high
school age, if they smoke or something like that, it’s not because they
crave a cigarette, it’s because it’s verboten. And hopefully most of them
will do it for, like, “I did it, now I don’t have to do it anymore.” It
depends on the kid. If you want to guarantee your kid’s going to do it,
come on like a nightmare and say, “Don’t you dare … if I ever … blah blah
blah.” I mean, I know my daughter’s going to smoke. Because everybody else
is, she’s going to try it. I can’t stop that, I’m not a cop. It’s probably
true for a lot of things. I think the worst thing you can do is make it so
that she or he can’t talk about it.
My daughter was told something about herself in school that made her
uncomfortable — the way she was behaving, she was acting up. She told me,
and she’s 11, and I kind of like freaked a bit. She was like, “Look, at
least I told you.” And she was right. I’m not so naive to think I’m hearing
half of it, at best. But I think the most important thing is that, whatever
they do, you’re not somebody to hide from. You gotta give a little if you
want to get a little. It’s tricky.
One of the main characters in “Freedomland” is a community-based cop
named Lorenzo. Where did the character come from?
Lorenzo’s sort of based on a guy who I worked with, and he’s my
own creation. That’s what I mean about going out in the field — I wouldn’t
even know people like this exist. In the housing projects in a bad
neighborhood, cops are basically considered an occupying army. But every
once in a while there’s a guy who has street charisma. Who has a different
attitude. Who sees himself as a member of the community as much as he sees
himself as a superego on the community. And people respond to that and he
responds to the way people are responding. You know, his head gets kinda
big. But it increases his commitment. He likes the jazz of it. He’s flawed,
though — I mean, everybody’s inconsistent. There are no saints out there.
The other main character is the local journalist who finds herself
involved in the book’s kidnapping. Have you done this kind of
Not news reporting. I’ve done a lot of journalism for magazines. I don’t
particularly like it. And most of them are cultural profiles. People in
music or movies. I have a hard time with it. I remember I did this article
on Richard Gere for Rolling Stone, and it was in the middle of this drug
phase I was going through, so like everything was off the wall. And I hand
in a 30-page article, late, and it was supposed to be the cover article.
Not only did I hand it in late, not only was it 30 pages, but I forgot to
put in things like what movies he was in, where was he born, how old is he.
They were very nice about it, but I think I was two sentences away from a
You’ve said that Hubert Selby’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn” was one of the
books that saved your life. How so?
I think the greatest tribute or compliment you can give a work of art, in
any form, is not about how much you appreciate it, but how much you can’t
wait to get out of there — to go home and do your own thing. Because the
thing made you so crazy to write, or to paint or to do something. And
Herbert Selby’s book was one of the first things I read that made me feel
How old were you?
About 15. I mean, I always liked the idea of being a writer before that,
but Selby’s book was the first time I saw life that was moderately like my
own Bronx housing project, like Brooklyn housing projects and Red Hook, and
the labor strikes, and the drag queens and the bennies. I was a very
sheltered working-class kid, but I did see enough. I could hear it, I could
recognize it. Before that, the things that I loved had really nothing to do
with validating my life experiences — John Steinbeck or J.D. Salinger or
Charles Dickens. I would love to read it but there was nothing in there
that would stir me to write. “Last Exit” was kind of scary and it was
disorienting and it was familiar. And I never had that experience. I mean,
Kino diving for the pearl in “The Pearl” might be a riveting story, but it
doesn’t remind me of my old Kentucky home, I’ll tell ya. Selby’s book was
the first thing, and it just shocked me. It’s like the shock of
recognition. And it made me very excited about the possibilities of me, my
world, my family, my friends. It’s valid grounds for literature? Holy shit!
How early were you writing fiction?
Oh, I was writing in elementary school. What happens is that when you’re a
kid, you know, everybody hates themselves, but they always have this one
thing that they feel makes them different. Everybody’s got an ace in the
hole. For me, I could write. I was a precocious writer. For another kid, he
was the best athlete. For a girl, she was the smartest math student or the
prettiest or the most physically developed. For another boy, it was like he
was a great dresser. Everybody’s like, “What’s the one thing I can hang on
to desperately, so I can feel like a member of the human race? I’ve got one
thing.” And for me it was writing.
What were you thinking when you went to Cornell to get a degree in labor
I had grown up in a working-class house, and my parents had Depression-era
childhoods. So the idea of going to college to be something in the arts was
incomprehensible and frivolous and exorbitant — and with no payback. So I
had it drilled into me, you know, that the whole point of college, other
than getting an education, is getting a job. Getting security. So it never
even entered my mind to be an English major or something. I really had to
do something. I wound up at Cornell in their School of Industrial
and Labor Relations. I didn’t even know what the hell that meant — I
thought it was advertising. And it was a state division, so it was easier
to get into than Cornell Arts and Sciences. You know, you got the Cornell
car sticker, but it was a division of Cornell. It was like a back door into
an Ivy League school. And I went for it.
It seemed irresponsible to want to be a writer, because someday you’re
going to have to support a family. But as it turns out, it was a very good
thing to do. If you want to be a writer, I think the worst thing you can be
is an English major because you become so self-conscious about great
writing and how this one did it and how that one did it. It would paralyze
you. To make your first messy baby steps right after you read “The Death of
Ivan Illych” or “Why I Live at the P.O.” I read a lot, but I didn’t read
anything I was supposed to read. But to be a writer, I feel like it’s just
important to study anything. Or nothing. Don’t study writing, whatever you
How did you find the time to write the stories that became “The
Wanderers”? Were you working then?
Actually, I wasn’t. When I graduated from Cornell, I had started writing. I
took all my electives in creative writing. And I would do readings in a
cafe in the basement of the Arts & Sciences building — it had these
fake Parthenon statues and it was a real hippie beat coffeehouse. One day
a week, in the afternoon, they’d do readings. I’d read every weekend, I was
really turned on by it. Then when I applied to graduate school, I also
applied to MFA programs, and I got into Columbia, but I also got into
Harvard for education, Syracuse for advertising, law school. I didn’t know
what the fuck to do. And I still didn’t feel I had any right to pursue a
writing career. My parents wouldn’t understand it, and by extension I
thought to myself, “How can I be bad like that?” The way it turns out, I
wound up going to Columbia, saying, “I’ll give it a shot. I’ll start it for
a year, and then I’ll go to law school.”
I started writing, and the stories in “The Wanderers” just caught on very
early. The head of the writing program at Columbia read them. I didn’t even
know I was writing a book. I was just writing these nostalgic sort of
apocryphal half-bullshit stories about growing up. And he passed it on to a
literary agent who only read like 40 pages and said, “When you’re ready,
I’m ready.” And that’s all it took. Obviously, he’s not going to send out
30 pages of an unknown writer, but I felt like I’d gotten validated by the
establishment. OK, this is the Good Housekeeping Seal of Literary:
“You’ve Got a Future.” It really helped. I’d go to class once a week, and
people would read their stuff, so it was an ongoing kind of consciousness
about being in a community of writers, and I’d just knock off a short story
Pretty soon I had a couple of them in Antaeus magazine. A guy in my class,
Daniel Halpern, was a poet, and he was writing in Antaeus and I had read a
section of “The Wanderers,” what was to be “The Wanderers.” Everybody in
the class hated it because it was about a fight between the Italians and
the blacks, and the Italians won, so it’s politically incorrect. And
everybody kind of hated it and Halpern said, “Can I have it for Antaeus?”
Once it was in a magazine, you know, it was just like a chain reaction. I
was too naive to know that writing is a long haul and you’ve got to keep at
it. I just lucked out because I got a publisher within a year. If nothing
came of that stuff, I don’t know if I would have stayed with it. I probably
would have folded in a year or two and done something responsible –
business school, law school, who knows. At that time the median age of a
novelist writing their first novel was 40. Which makes sense — you’ve got to
have a bit of a life. Now it looks like the median age is, like, 3.
It’s because of the MFA programs; they’re creative writing factories. But I
didn’t know. I was just writing. I was only 23, I’m in Manhattan, it’s real
exciting, I’m not worried.
You were, what, 24 when the book was published? That must have really
turned your life around.
I think the reason why the book was published was as much what I was
writing about — which was white working-class kids, pre-Vietnam — as it
was the writing. Those people never got written about. It wasn’t like
“Grease is the word”; it was before that kind of stuff. People hadn’t read
about characters like this in a dog’s age.
Let me ask you about movies, about Hollywood. Has writing screenplays
hurt or helped you as a writer?
I think it kept me in the writing game once I felt tapped out as a
novelist. It gave me a second career. And it certainly buys me the time to
write novels. I think the most important thing a writer can buy is time to
write. Most writers I know, unless they’re pretty well set up, they have to
do stuff to make ends meet. Stuff away from writing. And it’s usually
teaching — they spend a whole bunch of hours a week reading kid stuff, and
it takes its toll on you. Now, screenwriting, they don’t pay me for nothing
– I’m working like crazy. But the pay is so off-the-wall. And it got my
confidence back, when I started getting success in movies. When [my fiction
wasn't going well] I was at the tail end of the drug thing, and I was just,
like, rock bottom. And I started doing screenplay stuff. Of course I’m
working with guys like Don Simpson. He didn’t really aid and abet; I was
aiding and abetting myself, but it’s Hollywood. You got a drug problem and
now you’re going to work in Hollywood? You think that’s a good thing or a
But I straightened myself out and applied myself to the screenplays, since
I didn’t really know what else to write about. And it kept me in the
writing game, and it also showed me I was able to write about things that
were not connected to my autobiography. Because before that I felt like the
only things I could really write about were things I’d been through. I was
32 years old and on my fourth autobiography. You wonder, how bored can you
get? It took me out of myself. I had to write about a pool hustler, or a
policeman, and I realized that I can make shit up. It’s also hard, it’s
very hard to say “No more,” because it is so alluring, and no matter how
shocking the movie was that was made out of your script, there’s always the
hope that the next one is going to be the one. The next one’s going to be
“Raging Bull II.” It’s going to be my “Mean Streets.” It rarely or never
is, but hope springs eternal, so you keep in the game. You’re thinking,
like, this time I’m working with this guy and this guy and this guy, how
could I say no? Well, you have to say no, because after a while you realize
that all you’re doing is screenwriting. It’s like calling yourself an
actor, and you’re waiting tables. After a while, if you don’t stop doing
that, you’re a waiter.
Are you as proud of any of your screenplays as you are of your fiction?
Some of them I liked. But you know the only thing I look back on and really
like is “Clockers,” the book. And there are segments of the movies that I
think are really great, and there are segments of movies I think are really
great because they transcended what I wrote. See, the problem with
screenplays is, if you write thoroughly and intimately, the guy does this,
this and this, an actor will read that and he’ll go, “Hey man, I could
phone it in. It’s all here.” And the director will go, “Wow, just follow
these numbers.” And oftentimes movies based on scripts like that are not as
good as movies that are based on more sketchy scripts, because it demands
more from the actor, it demands more from the director. And so it can
boomerang on you.
Having written so many screenplays and been so successful, is it hard to
sit down and write a novel without wondering what kind of movie it will
I never do. Now this book, “Freedomland,” I sold it to Scott Rudin before I
wrote a word. And I didn’t do that on purpose. I know Scott Rudin. I did
“Ransom” with him, and he was a casting director on “The Wanderers” back in
the ’70s. So I knew the guy and I musta had lunch with him and told him
what I was working on, but I don’t even remember. And next thing I know, he
called up my agent and made this huge offer to buy it outright. And first I
said, “No, no, no, I don’t want to do that, because I’ll have this guy
breathing down my neck.” Then all of a sudden I said, “What am I, nuts?
It’s going to take years to write this thing. How am I gonna pay Con Ed? I
know, I’ll take this offer.” I never thought about the movie. Scott never
called me, in terms of, “Well, where’s my property?” He never asked to see
pages. He’s great. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. I got all
of the money and none of the pressure. However, now it’s time to pay the
I’ve got to write the script.
That was part of the deal originally?
Yeah, see, they keep wanting you to do stuff for this money they give you,
and I find it really annoying …
Is anything happening with it at this point?
It’s not even in my head. I just got my first copy of the book yesterday,
the actual book from the bindery. I’m not looking forward to it; it’s
really hard to do your own book, because it’s your book. The analogy I
always use is, when it’s your book it’s your baby. But when somebody buys
it, it’s not your baby anymore, and they hire you as a baby sitter on what
used to be your baby. And if they don’t like you, they’re going to fire you
as a baby sitter, off your natural-born baby. That’ll make you crazy.
Music’s a big part of this book, and it features prominently in your
work in general. The mother in this book, Brenda, lives for a certain kind
of soul music. What does music mean to you as a writer? I know that’s a
broad question …
No, I understand what you mean. I’ll tell you exactly what it means to me
and my work. It’s what gets me writing. It puts me in the mood and it’s
less dangerous than having a girlfriend. It puts you in touch with your
tortured soul, and you can write now. You can hide inside music. You can
become somebody else listening to music. I never go to concerts. I buy a
lot of CDs, but they’re always old chitlin-circuit R&B. It’s sort of like
non-Motown, unslick — it’s either Motown alternative or pre-Motown. It all
comes to an end about the mid-’60s. I don’t even know what’s going on in
music right now.
Do you keep regular hours as a writer?
Yeah, you have to be fairly disciplined or you’re going to wind up feeling
like Kafka’s bug or something. You know, if you don’t get out of bed for
three days, nobody’s going to notice. So you have to. I have to impose a
schedule on myself. So yeah, I have an office. It’s in the Flatiron
Building. Sometimes I don’t want to go. And it’s OK. It’s not like I have
a homework assignment that’s due or a term paper. But by and large I have
to try to keep to a schedule. Otherwise, you know, I get really depressed.
Do you work five days a week?
Four days a week. But there’ll be days where I’ll go out to Long Island,
where I have a house. When I have a work crunch, I’ll work 15 hours a day
out there. Some days here I’ll be lucky if two hours is a great day. You
know, it depends on the environment.
Do you read your reviews? Do they ever bother you?
It depends who’s writing them and what they say. If I get a bad review from
somebody and the content of what they’re saying is bullshit, it’s annoying
but it doesn’t bother me. If it’s a writer I respect and I think he or
she’s got a good point, yeah, it bothers me. It really depends on who’s
saying it and what they’re saying. I mean, I’ll get a great review that will
make me feel good, then I’ll get good reviews from other people that make
me feel great. It’s like, at what level are they approaching this book?
Sometimes you can learn a lot from your reviews, if you can stomach them.
If there seems to be a consensus of opinion about something you didn’t do,
there’s a good chance that it’s something that you needed to do.
Last question: When will your daughters be old enough to read your
Well, one of them is already knocking on the door to read “The Wanderers.”
She’s 13. So I’d say about a year or two. There’s a danger in getting kids
books at too young an age. The danger is not protecting them, but they’re
too young to appreciate it, and it’s dull and it’s senseless. I still can’t
read Jane Austen because I had to read “Pride and Prejudice” in the eighth
grade. Very good timing is really important, because there are books that
will hit you at 14 in a way that they wouldn’t be able to after, before or
when you’re an adult. It just speaks to you right now. And if you read them
at 14, you’ve just ruined that author for this kid, because the kid was too
young, it’s just the most boring Thomas Hardy bullshit, Jane Austen
bullshit. You give that book to somebody when they’re ready, and they get
it. So I’m not really worried about my daughters’ reading “The Wanderers”
because of a lot of curse words or graphic sex. I mean, of course I am –
but more important is, I don’t want her to read that book now if she’s
supposed to read it when she’s 17 or 18. So I’m protecting my stuff in that
way. I don’t want to wind up being my daughter’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
Dwight Garner is Salon's book review editor. More Dwight Garner.
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