Joy Williams and Her Unique Views of America

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A.O. Scott, The Times’s co-chief film critic, returns to the Book Review’s podcast this week to discuss the work of Joy Williams, the third subject in Scott’s essay series The Americans, about writers who give a sense of the country’s complex identity. Scott argues that Williams forces readers to see their surroundings anew.

“She takes nothing for granted,” Scott says. “She defamiliarizes everything. So you might think, in a short story, ‘Oh, this takes place in New England in the winter, in Maine.’ But it doesn’t conform to any of your preconceived ideas about what that place and setting might be like. I think the same is true of ‘The Quick and the Dead,’ which takes place in Arizona. It’s not Barbara Kingsolver’s Arizona, it’s not the Southwest as we have thought about it through travel or through other reading. So every place that she comes to, it’s as if you’re there for the first time, and everything has to be described to you and conveyed to you in the most immediate and vivid and specific terms, because you’ve sort of dropped in from another planet and you need to get your bearings.”

Nicholas Christakis visits the podcast to talk about his new book, “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.”

“I decided to write the book in the middle of March and I worked 12 hours a day for 120 days in a row, and delivered the manuscript — I was very proud — on schedule,” Christakis says. He laughed when recalling that he worked on his prior book for nine years. “So my editor is joking that I’m averaging down to a quicker pace. But this book, I was really powerfully motivated, I really wanted to write this book, it just sort of poured out of me. And also, I wanted to help. I wanted to help the public understand the nature of the threat we are facing, and the ways in which this threat is both timeless and novel.”

Also on this week’s episode, Alexandra Alter has news from the publishing world; and Tina Jordan and John Williams talk about what people are reading. Pamela Paul is the host.

Here are the books discussed in this week’s “What We’re Reading”:

“The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, 1938-1978”

“They Came Like Swallows” by William Maxwell

“Homeland Elegies” by Ayad Akhtar

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].

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