Friday, July 1, 2016

Robert H. Patton

Robert H. Patton holds degrees in literature and journalism from Brown University and Northwestern University. He worked as a Capitol Hill reporter, a commercial fisherman, and a real estate developer before publishing his family memoir, The Pattons, to wide acclaim in 1994. He lived in Louisiana before settling in Darien, CT, with his wife.

Patton's new novel is Cajun Waltz.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Not unusually, I’ve got a mishmash of things on my desk, my office floor, my bedside table, and my iPad. To take them in order:

My desk is crowded with a bunch of nonfiction that I’m reading as background for a series of historical novels I’m doing for Thomas Dunne. The series is based on a book I wrote a few years back about Revolutionary War privateering, so the stuff is mostly related to maritime matters of trade, warfare, and political skullduggery in the colonial era. Atop the pile is N.A.M. Rodgers’s classic study of the Georgian Royal Navy, The Wooden World, and a fine new naval history of the American Revolution by Sam Willis, The Struggle for Sea Power, just released by Norton. Willis covers a broad canvas from Canada to the Caribbean to the European Continent with clarity, smarts, and an appealing light touch. Anyone interested in the subject should check it out.

Down on my floor there’s A Sea of Words by Dean King, a nicely arranged lexicon of nautical terms and technical jargon relating to colonial ships and seamen. King is a fanatical expert (I mean that as a compliment) on the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian. If you saw the Russell Crowe film, Master and Commander, then you know Patrick O’Brian—and you also won’t be surprised that his 15-book series is an utterly accurate and immersive plunge into the world of the Royal Navy in the time of Admiral Nelson. Also on the floor is a throwback to my recent novel, Cajun Waltz. It’s Ann Savoy’s fantastic compendium of the artists, discographies, and lore of America’s Cajun music tradition, Cajun Music: A Reflection of a People. In flogging my novel to anyone who’ll listen, I keep Savoy’s book near at hand so I don’t screw up the facts that inspired the tale.

Things switch up on my bedside table. There are a couple of books by David Shields, Reality Hunger and How Literature Saved My Life. At the risk of looking lazy, I’ll quote what I wrote earlier on my blog about Shields:
He pursues a literary aesthetic that would scorn the fiction I write. I like him all the same. Shields rejects conventional narratives based on the carpentered plot-building of cause and effect. His books are collages of impressions, memories, and insights/puzzlements connected so obliquely they might as well be random - a lot like life, in other words. He's got artistic integrity and erudition quite intimidating to a bourgeois scribbler like me, but I love the wit and humility and sheer quest of his books.
I’ll be honest and add, too, that it helps that Shields’s language comes at you in short sharp bursts that are A) startling, and B) self-contained. So if you dip into his books late at night with your head on a pillow, you can take a quick hit or a long inhale depending on how drowsy you are – and either way it’ll imprint your brain and maybe your dreams in a worthwhile way.

And finally, my iPad: I’m not generally an e-reader guy, but lately I’ve been traveling and the convenience can’t be denied. At the moment I’ve got Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories teed up. A bestseller in Britain, it’s the playwright/screenwriter/novelist’s often comic, always humane memoir of growing up in Leeds, getting comfortable with his sexuality, dealing with failing parents and personal illness, and mainly just muddling through life as a quizzical, eccentric genius. Fantastic stuff.

Lastly, I’ve loaded a few contemporary fiction volumes into the iPad so I can keep tabs on the enemy—er, I mean my fellow novelists: Adam Johnson’s short story collection, Fortune Smiles; Dave Eggers’s The Circle, and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. All three books are harrowingly good. Plus they’re written with attention to language and human foible that’s both nuanced and blunt. I’m grateful I’ve got the books in digital form. That way, when I’m done reading I can delete them rather than start again at the beginning and never get anything done of my own. Thank God for small blessings, right?
Visit Robert H. Patton's website.

My Book, The Movie: Cajun Waltz.

--Marshal Zeringue