Ian Frazier Wishes Somebody Would Write About the World’s Largest Beaver Dam

I can’t think of a book that came between me and anyone. To bring me closer – Janet Malcolm found a 13-volume collection of “Anton Chekhov’s Tales”, published by Echo Press in 1984, sent it to me, read it and we talked about it, story by story. She wrote a book about Chekhov and edited his collections of stories herself. I had only read “The Island”, Chekhov’s non-fiction book about his journey through Siberia to the prison colony on Sakhalin, and “The Lady with the Dog”. I knew very little about him, Janet knows everything. This was a great last gift she gave me.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from a book lately?

In Jonathan Alter’s excellent biography on Jimmy Carter, “His Best: Jimmy Carter, Life,” I learned that former president and Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown Records, are second-degree cousins. Carter’s mother, Lillian Gordy Carter, was the granddaughter of James Jackson Gordy, a slave owner who fathered a second set of Gordy’s children by a woman he enslaved. Jimmy Carter and Berry Gordy share a great-grandfather and are thus technically half-second cousins. Why neither Carter nor Berry Gordy gave more of this wonderful fact that I do not know.

What topics would you like more authors to write about?

I don’t know – what about the largest beaver dam in the world? It’s in northern Alberta, Canada, and very hard to get to. Supposedly the largest animal-made structure seen from space. I would write about it myself, but no editors are interested. (Write about it, without actually going there.)

What genres do you particularly enjoy reading? And what do you avoid?

I generally avoid science fiction and historical fiction. I’m more interested in what has already happened or is likely to happen, rather than what someone imagines or might happen. But this is not a strict rule – eg “The Big Sky” and “The Way West”, sensational historical novels by AB Guthrie Jr. Also, “Dune” (not “Dune Messiah”).

How do you organize your books?

Some are organized by theme, such as the American West or fishing, but most are mixed.

What book would people be surprised to find on your shelves?

“The Perpetual Company” by Dan Quayle and “The Gift of Comfort” by Senator Joe Lieberman, both are engraved versions. It’s the start of a bunch of books about the vice president that didn’t hit the takeover target.

What kind of reader were you when you were a kid? What childhood books and authors stick with you the most?

I read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” frequently and loved it so much that I avoided The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, because I felt like he was critical of Tom. But then I read and re-read “Huckleberry Finn”; And “Tom Sawyer,” while still lovable, slipped into a happy past. Mark Twain is the primary and foundational writer for me.

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