Peter Heller stopped by Amazon's Seattle campus for lunch last week, to talk about his fantastic first novel, The Dog Stars, which our editors picked as one of our Best Books of the Month for August. Peter's actually a much happier guy than he apears in the photo below, holding up the coaster we asked him to sign. (Peter's response, when I shared this mugshot with him: "Looks like I just knocked off a 7-11 and proud of it.")
What’s the elevator pitch for The Dog Stars?
It’s about two guys who live at a little country airport—just a landing strip, some houses—nine years after a superflu kills 99% of people. Hig sleeps under the stars every night with his dog Jasper, and every day they fly a patrol in Hig’s 1956 Cessna. The other guy is a mean gun nut who showed up with a trailer full of guns and ammo. That’s how it starts.
What’s on your bedside table and Kindle?
The Adventures and Misadvenures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis (it’s a modern day Don Quixote, just wonderful); an anthology of T’ang and Sung Dynasty poetry translated by Red Pine; and a teetering stack of other poetry—Eliot, Basho, Yeats, Jack Gilbert, Merwin.
Top 5 favorite books of all time?
Pablo Neruda, Selected Poems, the one edited by Kerrigan; Hemingway’s In Our Time; The Four Quartets by Eliot; Huck Finn; One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese, translated by Kenneth Rexroth. For extra credit: The Bible. You can’t beat the poetry and the stories.
I read In Our Time when I was eleven. Holy @^!#! I wanted to ski with a buddy like that, and fish like that, and camp in the ferns and make cowboy coffee and be with a girl who could fish and row and was too good for me. And I wanted to write about all of it—like that. Damn. I reread it once in a while, and it still holds the same power and makes me feel like a kid, that awe at how beautiful and painful life can be, and how transcendant when rendered by a great writer. Whew.