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Philip Levine Interview: Former Poet Laureate Talks Where He Likes To Read

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"Where I Like To Read" is a series of short author interviews and blog posts in which writers share their literary tastes and their favorite places to curl up with a good book. Philip Levine was the 2011-2012 Poet Laureate of the United States, and he has also been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his collection, The Simple Truth:

Where do you like to read?
My favorite place to read is lying in bed. I would estime that I read probably four or five hours a day, some of it before I go to sleep. I go to bed around ten, but I don't fall asleep until midnight. So I read at that time, and then in the daytime in the afternoon. If I'm feeling tired, it's amazing how reading seems to energize me. In some ways it's a mistake, perhaps, to be reading at ten o'clock in bed. My wife, who's with me, falls asleep in 10 minutes. She has a hearing aide, she takes it out, so communication is impossible.

As a kid, I loved being in bed. The bed was like a safe haven. As a kid I was an avid reader. It's a kind of vehicle. As a child, I would imagine my bed as an ocean craft, and the books sponsored it. I'd shut my eyes, and think of myself travelling. I was reading adventure books, history books.

What is the last great book that you read?
I'll give you two. The first is by Adam Hochschild [To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918], and it's about the first World War in England. It's about the effect of the war in England on both men and women. It's the first book I've read that took the women's role in the war this seriously. It was the same time as when they were campaigning for the vote. And a lot of the women who had been pushing for suffrage actually backed the war, because they thought it was a practical thing to do. Others saw that the war was a monstrosity. So Hochschild tells this story through the lives of about 20 different people - some famous, some you'd never heard of - George Bernard Shaw, and political people like Winston Churchill. I read everything on that war because my father was in it.

The book of poems I'm currently reading is A Night in Brooklyn by D. Nurkse. I live in Brooklyn, and I've never written about Brooklyn as well as he has. It's the way that he captures the spirit and life of the people who live there, and the angers that are there, and the crazy rich society.

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