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Talking with Louis Sachar

Louis Sachar understands the insides of children’s minds like few writers can claim to do. This understanding comes through in his writing, which is side-splittingly funny, morally thoughtful, and warped all at once. One look at his broad smile and his twinkling eyes and it’s clear his understanding goes far and deep. At least some of his insight can be credited to a job as a teacher’s aide in the 1970s. The children he met at that school became the inspiration for SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL (1979).

AudioFile caught up with Sachar in Seattle during his nationwide tour for SMALL STEPS, a sequel of sorts to his 1988 novel, HOLES. Lionel Wilson has performed many of Sachar’s books for audio. His latest book is read by Curtis McClarin. But Sachar himself had the opportunity to narrate WAYSIDE SCHOOL GETS A LITTLE STRANGER (1995). We asked him about the experience.

“It was more difficult than I thought it would be. I enjoy reading at public events, so I was happy to do it. But I was surprised that when you’re not doing it before an audience, how difficult it is.” He went on, “I can feel the story as the audience is hearing it when I read at a signing and they react, but alone in a booth it’s a lot different.”

We asked Sachar how he thought the sound of the human voice might change the way a listener experiences a book. “I’m thinking about the times when I listen to audiobooks,” he said, in his thoughtful, gentle voice. “I think I get the same experience as when I’m reading it myself. I don’t feel like the narrator’s voice interferes with the voice I hear when I read. Although when I hear anyone else read my work, there’s usually something I wish were a little different, the inflection wrong here or something else slightly off there.” He added, “I really like the way they did SMALL STEPS and HOLES.”

Sachar doesn’t believe in talking down to his readers, whatever their ages. “When I read aloud to younger readers, I still have a somewhat matter-of-fact, dry kind of humor, and when other people read it, they tend to give it big punch lines and try to wacky it up.”

Sachar and his wife enjoy listening to quirky, humorous short stories and essays when they’re on the road. “We always enjoy the David Sedaris books. This last trip we listened to a book by Sarah Vowell. When my daughter was younger, we used to love listening to Hank the Cowdog books. Those are especially good. There’s more on the tape than in the books,” he said, referring to the songs author John R. Erickson sings.

We asked what’s next from Sachar. “I wish I knew,” he chuckled. “The hardest part for me is finding a way to begin a story. I try to find a little nugget that intrigues me and that can possibly grow into something bigger. I look for those until something starts to grow.”--Steven E. Steinbock

© AudioFile 2006, Portland, Maine

Photo © Carla Sachar

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