My draft board, I am told (although it may be myth), had, of all draft boards in the United States, the highest proportion of men killed in Vietnam—where, incidentally, my godfather, the photographer Robert Capa, was the first American to die, though he was a Hungarian and had nothing to do with the Hudson. The area was salted with military institutions—West Point, military academies, veterans’ hospitals—and old soldiers, including even, when I was young, some from the Civil War. The play of the boys was guerilla warfare in the extensive woods. Every stranger was a threat, an enemy. Indeed, there were a lot of bad apples around—escaped convicts from Sing Sing (twice as I remember), standard criminals, gangs in the fifties, child molesters (a beautiful little girl was taken from my third-grade schoolyard and raped and beaten over a period of many hours), and hoboes (not Shakespearian woodwinds) on the rail line that was the geographical locus of my childhood. I ran wild through all this, protected by my paranoia, by my sharply-honed guerilla skills, and by a rather extensive arsenal. Had you turned me upside down and shaken me, the floor would have looked like a military museum after an earthquake.
- Mark Helprin, The Paris Review
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As an interviewer, the art of asking good questions, drawing out reticent interviewees, and eliciting Thoughtful Thoughts is a source of constant interest for me. I am fascinated by the strategies employed by well-known hosts, journalists, and at-large interviewers as they seek to alternately woo, cajole, flatter, and berate their subjects.
I mean, did you watch Oprah’s Lance Armstrong interview? Did you feel, like me, that she gave him a pass on the option of whether he was going to “talk about other people,” or fail to press him on when, if ever, he was going to offer real, honest-to-God personal apologies to the people whose lives he knowingly and viciously sought to ruin?
Or maybe you’re a Larry King guy, or a Charlie Rose gal. Maybe you listen to a lot of NPR and have become a cataloger of Tom Ashbrook’s (On Point) idiosyncratic tics, or a devotee of Jian Ghomeshi’s (Q) velvet delivery, or a rapt consumer of Terry Gross’s (Frrrrrrrrrrrresh Air) intimate moments with Famous Voices (did you listen to the one where Maurice Sendak wept on air?)
Whether we read The Seattle Times in the morning, watch FOX News each evening, or devour every issue of The New Yorker, we all get much of our information about the larger world through sources that have been interviewed. People ask other people questions, and the answers they elicit inform us about what is happening down the street or across the globe, or at least reveal something of what it means to be inside the interviewee’s head. Interviewing, it turns out, is but a formalized version of that most basic human relational act, the conversation.