Marc Levy is a French novelist who was born in Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine. Before becoming an author, Marc Levy created a business that specialised in computer graphics, but would go on to resign and begin again in 1989. He then co-founded a business that would become the first office architecture company in France. How Marc Levy became a writer is a charming story, at 37 years old he wrote a story for the man that his son would grow up to be. After his sister had read it, she saw potential and persuaded him to allow someone from the world of publishing read it. In the end, he sent the manuscript to Editions Robert Laffont who then decided to publish it. That book is called If Only It Were True. Shortly after it was published, Steven Spielberg acquired the film rights and would turn it into a #1 box office hit entitled Just Like Heaven which starred Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo. Once Marc Levy had experienced success with his book, he opted to become a full-time writer, and since then all of his novels have hit the top of the best-seller lis tin France. However, Marc Levy has also experienced high levels of success all around the world. I was extremely excited to have the chance to talk books with such a prestigious author. Please enjoy my interview with the supremely talented Marc Levy.
When someone asks you, ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
It really depends on how serious the question is. Sometimes I respond that I am a writer. Other times, I tell the truth: my job consists of living in an imaginary world, with no borders, no walls, no fear, and no hatred ; a world where I can pretend that I am working while merely looking at people, a landscape, or even a palm tree.
I just finished Plainsong by Kent Haruf. He and Richard Yates are amongst my favorite authors.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
I really don’t know. I read so many great books during my childhood that picking just one would feel like a betrayal to all the others. My childhood didn’t last just one month of course, so my reading choices changed as I grew up. That’s the magic of books. They don’t exist just by themselves. They are part of a family, they grow up with you. I am often asked, “What book is on your nightstand?” And this question always makes me smile, because most of the time, the answer is a charming lie, like “Dostoyevsky,” or “Proust,” meaning, “See how intelligent I am.” The truth is, the book sitting on your nightstand is the one you are actually reading, and hopefully that changes regularly, or it will end up very dusty…
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Sadly yes. I have done everything I could to forget it.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A responsible child.
What do you think your school-aged self would think of the present day you?
You’re’ OK. Despite the fact that you were terrible at Math, Physics, and Chemistry, despite how many times your teacher told you would never go anywhere, you are doing OK. And no hard feelings about it. On the contrary, I see an amazing amount of hope in my past, and feel a great joy realizing that imagination can be as powerful as a sophisticated equation. Sure, Jules Verne wasn’t able to send a rocket into space, but his imagination invented the dream that allowed humankind to land on the moon.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
A dictionary, or better yet, an encyclopedia…
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
OK, the most important thing about writing/reading is… it’s all about freedom. Read what you want, when you want, and the same goes for writing. So, no routine, no habits, nothing like that. You can read a few lines many times a day, as often as you want, and you won’t even gain weight…good luck doing the same with chocolate!
I hope I haven’t written it yet, but so far I believe my first one, If Only It Were True. I mean, the fact that Steven Spielberg bought it to make a movie was a huge boost to my career. I hope that since this first book, I have worked hard enough to deserve the opportunity he gave me.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
Look at what you are writing and never look at yourself while you write.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
Yes, my book The Children of Freedom, which I associate with my father because the book relates to the time he spent in the Resistance with his friends as teenagers during World War II, and because I see the world entering dark years again, where Resistance will become more important than it ever has since the end of World War II.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
First I like to know what books they love and understand why they love them. That way I’ll know if a book I love will interest them. Haruf and Yates’ books are very important to me, because I love the United States so much that I decided to live here, not just to be a “bohemian bourgeois” in the city, but because American history has fascinated me ever since I was a teenager. This is probably because there are few countries in the world built by people who left their own country to invent a completely new world. Anyway, understanding America, learning the stories of its people—the people who made this country, in which two of my kids were born, is something which moves and fascinates me. Zola, Hugo, and Gary are amongst the French authors I would recommend to everyone, but would an American reader fully understand the beautiful, twisted and heartbreaking poetry of Gary’s proud and broken characters? I don’t know. In any case, each year I end up recommending 20 books, all different in style, because literature is alive.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I prefer fiction written in a non-fiction, realistic world. Let’s say I love fictional characters evolving and being affected by their time.
Do you think reading is important?
Yes, I do. Reading is a source of freedom. I received a letter one day from a political prisoner whose only crime was writing his opinions in a newspaper. And this is what he wrote me: “They can put my body behind walls and bars, but when I read, no one can restrain my mind from travelling all over the world and living in a free land, not even them.” We shall never forget that all dictators and authoritarian rulers are obsessed with censoring or discrediting writers and the press, and their motives are obvious. Journalists and writers, whether you agree or disagree with what they have to say, open up debate, make you think, give you an opportunity to learn and form your own opinion, to see page after page that the world is made of not just two, but actually thousands of colours, that parents love their children with the same love no matter where they are in the world. I could go on and on, but let’s just say that journalists and writers elaborate a thousand times more than most politicians do, and in a world where a select few try to get control of the world by using fear and hate and lies and corruption, reading is a refuge and also a way of resisting.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
There are too many for me to pick just one.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
I like to read, so I prefer real books, but I am quite happy to pursue my reading on an e-book when I travel.
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
Any book that will make them love reading and want to read another one. A book that will open their mind, help them overcome their fears, and embrace the diversity of the world we live in.
I believe Les Misérables by Victor Hugo and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck both opened up my social conscience and my eyes to the man I wanted to become someday. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery opened up my imagination and filled it with dreams. Then I would say the 3,000 or so books that followed helped me in each step of my life.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I have no idea.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I am so sorry that you are dead.