Longlisted author Andrew Solomon answers our questions
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
It's deeply thrilling. The prize has such a noble history, and so many impressive laureates, and I'm honored to have made the list. I'm an Anglo-American writer and a dual national, and to have recognition in the UK is especially meaningful to me because that's where my husband and I were joined in civil partnership in 2007. My book looks at how societies embrace diversity, and I am thrilled to find that Great Britain is ready for the kinds of diversity about which I've written.
What research did you do for writing your book?
The book involved a great deal of in-person interviewing; I talked to more than 300 families and accumulated over 40,000 pages of interview transcripts. I also did extensive library research and interviewed scientists and other experts. Organizing the material was a relentless job, and I sometimes felt more like an air traffic controller than like a writer. But ultimately, I felt that my primary insight was the synthetic insight, that my understanding of what was true about the whole population in the book outweighed the truth of any individual story.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
I originally set out to be a novelist, but I came to find reality surprisingly seductive. I think we need both forms: that people need to escape from the world we inhabit, and to find out all about it, looking deeply at its very soul. It's wonderful to find that people have the patience for the deep investigation that books aspire to, that there's an audience for something more profound than what the daily paper can provide.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, because it really set the form for most of the non-fiction that's come since. It includes both research and personal narrative, and is broad, sweeping, and yet intimate. Burton's prose is gorgeous and parts of the book are extremely funny. It's hard to believe how much of our sensibility originates in this 17th century volume.
What are you working on next?
I'm about to begin a book about how our idea of motherhood and fatherhood has changed in an era when men change nappies and women work late in the City. And I'm looking at how those shifts relate to the advent of gay families, of single mothers by choice, of international adoptions, of families in divorce, and so on.
Andrew Solomon is the author of Far From The Tree (Chatto & Windus)