Our interview with R J Palacio
30 July 2012 / 0 Comments
Last week we caught up with R J Palacio and interviewed her about her new book Wonder.
Can you tell us a little bit about your novel Wonder...
Wonder is about a ten year old boy who is absolutely ordinary in every way but one: he was born with a facial abnormality. After being homeschooled his whole life because of his medical conditions, he enters a mainstream school for the first time in the fifth grade, and the book follows his journey during that very tumultuous year, filled with ups and downs, new friends, and everything else a child that age might encounter in a typical school year. Luckily for the boy, whose name is Auggie, he's been endowed with some truly wondrous gifts in life: an ability to find humour in most situations, parents who love him unconditionally, and the support of a community of friends and teachers who teach him a thing or two about friendship, and who he teaches a thing or two about compassion and the impact of kindness.
What do you hope people take away with them after reading Wonder?
The most common reaction I've been hearing from people--and the one I had truly hoped for--is that after reading Wonder it made them want to be kinder people. That's a big theme of the book: can we make it a rule of life to be kinder than necessary?
The reception to the book has been extraordinary. What is the best experience you've had with fans?
I've been touched and moved by the outpouring of genuine affection from the fans of Wonder, people--adults and kids alike--who have told me how much the book has moved them. I can't single out any particular experience yet because there have been so many instances, though at one event in Chicago, a mother with her two daughters came to hear me talk. One of the daughters suffered from some pretty severe medical issues while the other daughter did not. It was a very emotional moment for all of us.
Anything you've learnt or have been surprised by during the publishing process?
Since I actually work in the book publishing industry, I knew better than to have any anything more than modest expectations as to how the book would do in the marketplace. I've been part of too many book launches of books that were wonderful in their own right that nevertheless went nowhere. The shelf-life of hardcover books is very short, and I had no reason to expect that Wonder wouldn't follow the same trajectory as 99% of the novels published. The biggest surprise is that it hasn't. People really are heeding the message of the book and spreading the word. It's been amazing.
As a charity with a mission to inspire people to read more, we're passionate spreading reading. How important is reading in your own life?
Besides the time I spend with my family, I consider the time I spent reading to be the most valuable, the most precious, and the most wondrous way to spend my time every day. I've always loved books and I've always read a lot. I'm lucky to be a very fast reader, too. I grew up surrounded by books in the home of two parents who loved to read more than anything else. I chose to make a career in books, both as the designer of books and as an editor, And now I write them. So I'm blessed with books. They literally are my life's work.
How would you encourage someone to get into reading who doesn't think it's for them?
If you find the right book for you, it doesn't feel like a chore. As your librarian to recommend something to you based on the kinds of things you like. That's what they love to do: they're like matchmakers for books. As your booksellers to do the same thing. If you don't know where to start, ask someone for guidance and to point you in the right direction. And start small. Don't try and bite off more than you can chew.
Library funding in the UK is under threat right now. What do libraries mean to you and why do they matter?
That's such a shame: libraries should be the last thing to go. They offer free entertainment, and enlightenment. They are the most democratic of institutions because they render services to the rich and poor alike, and inside a library it never matters what your level of education is, where you come from, who your parents are, what dialect you speak, or whether you've paid your rent on time. If books had not been part of my life I don't know where I would be right now.
What are you reading right now?
Les Miserable by Victor Hugo. And right before that, All My Friends Are Superheroes. One very short book followed by one very long book.
More about Wonder
Watch Reading Activists Gateshead's Skype interview with RJ Palacio (some of the sound quality is a bit poor, but it's a great interview!).
Find out more about RJ Palacio.
Follow RJ Palacio on Twitter.
Has your reading group or book club read Wonder? Do let us know what you thought.