Q&A with Atul Gawande, longlisted for his book 'Being Mortal'
How does it feel to reach the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize?
Completely unexpected and gratifying. I had no idea that I—an American—was eligible. And this book is just coming out. So this came out of the clear blue. But my great hope has been that the book connects with people through its storytelling as well as its ideas. Landing on the longlist gives me reason to believe it might.
What research did you do for writing your book?
Lots. Upwards of two hundred interviews with patients, their family members, and others. Observation with dozens of staff members in intensive care units, senior care homes, hospice agencies, geriatricians, home health workers, and others. Library research. But weaving in with this are my own experiences with my own patients, family members, and friends.
How do you feel about the status/ popularity of non-fiction books in general?
I’m not too pleased with the status of books, generally—appreciation of the value for individual minds and society of reading anything longer than an email has been decaying steadily for a while now. But the strength of long form non-fiction writing is arguably in its heyday.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
Can’t say I have a single favourite. But among my most loved are David Foster Wallace’s 'A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again', Joan Didion’s 'Slouching Toward Bethlehem', Emmannuel Carrerre’s 'The Adversary', Oliver Sacks’s 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat', Lewis Thomas’s 'Lives of a Cell', and almost anything by Janet Malcolm. They make reportage art.
What are you working on next?
Well, there is always my public health research writing (coming out shortly is the surgical volume of 'Disease Control Priorities', Third Edition, synthesizing evidence on the effectiveness of global health interventions, which I’m co-editing). But I don’t know what book I’ll be working on next for general audiences. For now, I’m returning to writing my next piece for the New Yorker magazine.
Atul Gawande is the author of Being Mortal (Profile Books)
Photo credit to Tim Llewellyn