Peter Tinti is an independent journalist, whilst also acting as a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime. Peter Tinti is a very well respected journalist, whose writing and photography has appeared in numerous global publications, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Vice, Politico, World Politics Review, Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera, The Independent, and The Telegraph. Peter’s work has also led to opportunities for him to act as a consulting producer, which he did for VICE on HBO. Peter Tinti is also an author, with his new book having just been released. It is titled Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior and was co-written also by Tuesday Reitano. In 2013, Peter Tinti was also included in Action On Armed Violence’s list, The Top 100: The Most Influential Journalists Covering Armed Violence. I was intrigued to learn about the reading habits of such a well respected journalist. Please enjoy my interview with Peter Tinti…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I tell them I am a journalist and researcher, which, practically speaking, means I get to read, write, talk to lots of people, and travel for a living.
I am only partially through A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, and I suspect I’ll consider it one of the best novels I have ever read once I finish. Even if it weren’t flawlessly executed (which it is), the sheer ambition and creativity alone would make it a must-read.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
My school aged self would be shocked that I write for a living. In kindergarten, we had an activity called “Writer’s Workshop” that I hated so much I came home crying after the first day. Even in middle school and high school, writing for the purpose of anything other than an assignment was never on my radar. It wasn’t until college, when I started reading works of narrative non-fiction for fun and when more than one professor complimented me on my own writing that I even started to think about writing as something to pursue. I didn’t get serious about writing and reporting until my late 20s, though.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I wish. I tend to binge read and I learn best and enjoy reading the most when I read a lot of books about the same or similar subjects consecutively. I’ll tear through a few books at a time, then spend several weeks, months even, telling myself I should read more books only to find myself reading the news, scrolling through twitter, and watching TV. The only real reading habit I can claim is that I am usually reading two or three books at once.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far? How did it impact it?
George Packer’s memoir of his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, The Village of Waiting, had a profound impact on my career. I was a fan of Packer’s writing and reporting when I was an undergraduate student, and I had no idea that he was ever a Peace Corps Volunteer or that he wrote a book about his Peace Corps experience. I stumbled across The Village of Waiting as I was preparing to start my own stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa. It was just so much more honest and insightful than any of the other “westerner in Africa” books people were recommending to me. It would be interesting to revisit the book now that I am older, having spent several years living and working in West Africa, but at the time, as I was preparing to embark upon a pretty significant life event, the book resonated with me. More than anything, it made me want to write.
I am almost never asked for book recommendations. Given that there is so much good TV being made these days, it seems like I only ever get asked “what shows are you watching?” That said, I tell people who enjoy shows such as The Wire, Justified, and Breaking Bad that they should check out Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, and Don Winslow. Those guys are masters of the form and can turn anyone into a reader.
As for non-fiction, a lot of my friends are sports junkies like me, and I regularly find myself recommending The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam and Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger, both of which I consider essential reading for anyone who likes sports and appreciates good storytelling. They are two of my favorite books of any genre.
For those who are more historically inclined, I often recommend King Leopold’s Ghosts by Adam Hochschild, which reads like a thriller despite the somewhat obscure subject matter, and Ghost Wars by Steve Coll, which also somehow manages to be a page-turner despite the complexity of the subject. Both are masterpieces in my opinion.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
Generally, non-fiction, but much of my consumption of non-fiction writing these days comes in either the form of narrative “longform” journalism, which I read for pleasure, or reports, policy papers, and some academic texts as part of my pre-reporting process. I have been trying, and failing, to read more fiction if only to diversify my reading diet.
Do you think reading is important?
Absolutely. Most importantly, for anyone who wants to write, I think it is important to read widely and read omnivorously. This isn’t unique or original advice, but I think it is important for aspiring writers to have a balanced literary diet that includes everything from dense, challenging texts to page-turning pulp.
I was impressed by Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America by Ioan Grillo, and A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Oscar Martinez. I also re-read The Heart that Bleeds by Alma Guillermoprieto. I love her writing and reporting.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Real. Without a doubt. My preference isn’t based on any sort of principle, I just find it easier to get lost in a good story or work my way through something challenging if I am nowhere near a screen. Otherwise, two hours set aside for reading quickly becomes ten minutes of reading, and an hour and fifty minutes of scrolling through twitter and reading news and opinion pieces.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of my favorite writers, yet inexplicably, I have not yet read Between the World and Me. I hope to remedy that soon. I also plan to read Evicted by Matthew Desmond. I’ve lost track of how many people have recommended it to me.