NEW YORK — Like many of the writer guests at The Paris Review’s Spring Revel on Tuesday night, Louis Begley’s sights are set on what he has yet to fully define.
Now that his 11th book, “Kill and Be Killed,” has landed in stores, the Polish-American author will be signing away Saturday at Sag Harbor’s Canio’s Books and on April 14 in the West Village’s 192 Books. But Begley is already onto the next. In the nearly 70 years since fleeing Poland for the U.S., Begley has received numerous honors — both a summa cum laude undergraduate degree and a magna cum laude law degree from Harvard, PEN’s former American president and a Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. Readers are more inclined to associate him with his numerous titles, which have been translated into 15 languages, including the semi-autobiographical 1991 “Wartime Lies” and “About Schmidt,” which was adapted into a Jack Nicholson-starring film in 2002.
Before catching up with his writer wife Anka Muhlstein, his editor Nan Talese, The New York Review of Books’ Robert Silvers and other confidantes at Cipriani 42nd Street’s cavernous dining room, Begley, with Scotch in hand, brought WWD up-to-speed about his writing life.
WWD: What’s next?
Louis Begley: I’m working on a new novel.
WWD: What’s the premise of it?
L.B.: Telling you about it would be like opening a bottle of perfume in this room.
L.B.: No, it would swallow the perfume of the book.
WWD: What do you find intriguing culturally right now?
L.B.: The anger, the extraordinary anger. Everybody in America is angry at somebody.
WWD: What is the root of it?
L.B.: Two very stupid wars, a very deep recession and the extraordinary influence of money on politics, which is pushing forward extreme positions.
WWD: What do you think the answer is or the way out?
WWD: When is your book supposed to be finished?
L.B: I hope later this year.
WWD: How many hours a day do you spend writing?
L.B.: That depends on what else is going on but ideally four or five.
WWD: Where do you like to write?
L.B.: Anywhere where I can sit down.
WWD: Do you have a favorite place though to work?
L.B.: I either work in New York or at my place in Long Island. In a quiet room.
WWD: Do you have any writing rituals?
L.B.: [Laughs] The ritual is to sit down and to make sure that my computer hasn’t run out of battery. I could sit on anything. I have no troubles. As my mother would have said, “We, who have known the war, can manage these things. We, who have known the war, don’t mind waiting in line. We, who have known the war, don’t mind not being able to find the pair of shoes we’re looking for, etc., etc. etc.”
WWD: Is that your approach to life?
L.B.: That’s my mother’s favorite saying.
WWD: And yours as well?