J. Peder Zane is the Book Review Editor and book columnist for the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. His national awards include the 1999 Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His Sunday column is syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service. He edited and contributed to the new essay collection, Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading (W.W. Norton).
Zane was born in New York City in 1962. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He began his career in journalism in 1985 as a general assignment for the Patent Trader, a twice-weekly newspaper in Westchester County, N.Y. He has also worked at The Travel Agent Magazine and The New York Times.
Zane is married to Janine Steel. They have three daughters.
Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading (2004)
Adventures in Reading
It’s literature’s version of the chicken and egg: Who makes books come alive, writers or readers?
Anatole France said a writer’s words are “a magic finder that sets a fibre of the brain vibrating like a harp string” and “so invokes a note from the sounding board of the soul.” But he also observed that it is the reader’s response that makes those words “dull or brilliant, hot with passion or cold as ice.”
Imaginative writers need sensitive readers as surely as pianists need finely tuned instruments and just as surely as chickens need eggs—and eggs need chickens. The thirty-four essays in this book explore the symbiotic relationship between remarkable book and remarkable readers. They show us how book scan tempt and enchant us—if we let them. They tell us why they can be dangerous, sad, lonely and mad, fragile and fearless, seductive and devastating, unpleasant, daunting, and yes, sometimes, incomprehensible—if we’re of a mind.
Can a book be Scottish, smokin’ or double-d-daring? You tell me?
Each of the thirty-four authors describes a specific encounter with a book, suggesting the varieties of literary experience. Together they draw on books form an array of writers including Eudora Welty, Richard Ford, Sigmund Freud, and Louis L’Amour. They explore classic texts such as Catcher in the Rye, Doctor Zhivago, Absalom, Absalom!,The Cat in the Hat, and Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. And they plumb wonderful obscure works including The War with the Newts by Karel Čapek, The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison, Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, and Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying by Wolfgang Langewiesche.
None of us at the News & Observer could have guessed the imaginative range the writers could bring to the series when I proposed the idea to my editors, Melanie Sill and Felicia Gressette. We began with a rough notion of where we wanted these adventures in reading to go—and the places to avoid. Have writers discuss their favorite books, but don’t produce another series where writers…discuss their favorite books. Push them to describe the ineffable powers of literature…without resorting to highfalutin platitudes about the ineffable powers of literature. Discourage laundry lists of works loved as children. Encourage specificity and detail. Above all, figure out a way to have great writers meet us at eye level, as readers.