Jay Parini, biographer & novelist: 'I often feel like Mr Pickwick'

Parini discusses Robert Frost's gravity and Picasso's constant pulse of creativity

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I'm lying in bed this morning in my mid-19th century Vermont farmhouse. I'm drinking a cup of Irish breakfast tea, looking out my window, where I see a field where there is an abandoned silo. The Green Mountains are miles away, a thin blue line on the horizon.

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading, for the second time, Albert Bigelow Paine's 1912 biography of his friend Mark Twain. It's full of lively anecdotes found nowhere else.

Choose a favourite author and say why you admire her/him

Robert Frost is always someone I re-read with pleasure, and I have a drawing of him above my desk. He had a kind of rooted way about about him, a gravity leavened by wit.

Describe the room where you usually write

My study is a long narrow room with a view of the north field. There are perhaps a thousand books on the shelves, mainly poetry. I have a little seating area with a green leather couch and matching chair: a place to sit and read or take a nap.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

I often feel like Mr Pickwick, but, in my deepest soul, I'm probably closer to Professor Narayan Godbole in Forster's A Passage to India. He's a man who views the world with a certain equanimity but doesn't look too close at times, not wishing to lose his composure.

Who is your hero/heroine from outside literature?

Picasso is a hero. I love his constant pulse of creativity over many decades, his reworking of the past in countless revisions of his favourite paintings by Old Masters.

Jay Parini's new book is 'Every Time A Friend Succeeds, Something Inside me Dies: The Life of Gore Vidal' (Little, Brown)

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