On Books and Reading

I get lots of questions from my fans every single day — via email, snail mail, or Facebook post. Or in person — like today, when two people spotted me at a coffee shop in California. The most unexpected example of that came when a whole class of seventh graders from Vermont found me up at the top of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. They had so many questions that we had a spontaneous writing seminar up there, way above the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol dome, eating our picnic lunches while talking about stories, Merlin, nature, and inspiration.

I really love answering your questions directly, as you can tell. Truth is, I feel honored that you trust me to give a helpful response. But at the same time… I feel that many of you may have questions that you’re not asking! So from time-to-time I’ll blog about some of the recent questions I’ve been asked — with the answers, of course.

Q: Your books are some of my favorites right now. What were some of your favorite novels when you were a teenager?

A: Books allow you to travel wherever you like. And no ticket is required. No toothbrush, even. Just pick your century, your continent, your character — and go. I read avidly. As a boy, I enjoyed reading the Greek and Norse myths; great sports stories; biographies of Abraham Lincoln or Helen Keller or Albert Einstein; Anne Frank’s diary; moral philosophy by people like Socrates and John Stuart Mill; the poetry of Wordsworth, Frost, Keats, and Dickinson; and nature writing by Thoreau, Carlson, and Muir. I never read science-fiction or fantasy until college. Then I encountered Tolkien, and a whole new world opened before my eyes.

Q: Which of your books is your favorite?

A: I can no more answer that, than I could answer which of my five children is my favorite! Each one is special, and there’s no way I could pick just one.

Q: What age or reading level do you recommend for your books?

A: I write books that I would like to read!  So there’s really no age limit for any of my stories.  As long as someone is young at heart, with a healthy imagination, they can enjoy the tales.

Having said that, I believe deeply in the power (and also the poetry) of language. And I make a point of never “writing down” to young readers. As a result, my books are, I hope, both occasionally challenging and always fun, with lasting questions for the reader to ponder.

Good readers—starting in third and fourth grade and continuing up into adulthood—enjoy my novels: the three books in the Heartlight Saga, all twelve books in The Merlin Saga, and the new Atlantis Trilogy. Younger readers (starting in second and third grades) enjoy Tree Girl; those younger still enjoy my picture books.

Q: What do you like to read?

A: I read everything that interests me… which is quite a lot! I’m especially fond of great nature writing, biographies of amazing people, and beautifully crafted novels whatever their genre.

I also read whatever books are needed to research my next book. For The Merlin Saga, I spent a whole year researching Merlin and Celtic lore before starting to write.  For The Ancient One, I researched nine different tribes who lived in the Pacific Northwest five hundred years ago. And I hired a bright student to help me get the facts straight.  In addition, I needed to understand the smells, sounds, and ecological interconnections of an ancient grove of redwoods—which meant, happily, that I needed to do some camping in redwood forests.