Gazala: In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and why you choose them.
Wendel: On the fiction side, I'd choose In the Skin of A Lion, by Michael Ondaatje. That's one of the titles I pull down and reread every year or so, along with The Great Gatsby and several Hemingway short stories. (See, I had to find a way to get past that single-choice criteria.) Ondaatje is better known for The English Patient, but I really enjoy Lion. The novel is set in Toronto, back at the turn of the last century. In many ways, Toronto was the city of my youth -- a glittering skyline that I saw from the opposite side of the Lake Ontario, where my family lived during the summers. This novel swirls and moves, almost like a fever dream, around several memorable characters. Nonfiction? I'd have to go with Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces, which details and emphasizes the importance of myth -- those old stories that may be a part of our very DNA. Anybody who writes has to at least acknowledge these tales of yesteryear, their structure, and how they can still reach out to us today.
Gazala: Your latest book is an excellent and gripping true story of baseball and cultural history, called Summer of '68. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us something about Summer of '68, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.
Wendel: The year 1968 rocked our world and we're still dealing with the aftershocks. Culture wars? Political discord? A divisive presidential campaign? Things were far worse when it came to all those elements in 1968. Of course, the year has been written about in terms of cultural, political, even musical events. What I did in Summer of '68 was move sports to the forefront and write about a great collection of teams and personalities. Two of the most racially integrated organizations in the country -- the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers -- met in an epic World Series in baseball. Football moved to the top of the U.S. sports mountain, thanks to Joe Namath and the rise of the old American Football League. And we had the Mexico City Summer Games, which made live TV viewing of the Olympics a must for American households. I follow several top athletes -- Bob Gibson, Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain, Luis Tiant -- through this tumultuous time. What they learned and how they struggled to move ahead, I believe, is as important today as it was then.
Gazala: What are books for?
Wendel: To help bring order, or at least a glimpse of it, to a world that often borders upon the insane and bizarre.
Gazala: W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?
Wendel: Well, you start with the rules. Those are your flickering lights as you move into the darkness when you begin any new book. And then, too soon, you realize that you have to invent some more rules and techniques to try and carry the day.
Gazala: Someone let the dogs out. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.
Wendel: Q: What's the future of books? A: I sometimes tell my students at Johns Hopkins that I don't have any idea what format we'll be writing for in a decade or two or three (e-books, iPads, some blend of the internet and movies?), but I believe people will still be hungry for story. For a good story can not only entertain us, it can give us a bit of a clue about who we are and what's really important in the world.
Wendel's Summer of '68 just came out yesterday. You can find it all over, and if you want to order it from Amazon, you do that by clicking here.