The book that turned Annie Leibovitz into a photographer
You wrote about your close relationship with Susan Sontag over the last 15 years of her life. Did it influence your reading habits at that time?
I met Susan because she wanted me to photograph her. She needed a new portrait to promote a book. His favorite photographer, Thomas Victor, is very ill and will soon die of AIDS. We talked and made arrangements to meet. I was terrified of being alone with her and read The New York Times cover to cover that day in preparation. I also read his first novel, “The Benefactor”. She was impressed by that. She told me she wanted to write fiction rather than critical essays.
After we were together for a while, Susan told me that if she read as slowly as me, she wouldn’t read anything. It seemed to me that she was inhaling books. Nevertheless, I asked him to make a reading list of books for me. It included “Mrs. Dalloway,” Elizabeth Hardwick’s “Sleepless Nights,” Beryl Markham’s “West With the Night,” Joan Didion’s “Play It as It Lays,” and Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice.” set up a library for the house in the country with Modern Library and Everyman’s editions.I met many writers and artists through her.Oliver Sacks visited her so that we could use the swimming pool in London Terrace, where we lived.
I read “On Photography” of course and we talked about photographs, but it didn’t send me down the path of critical theory.
How do you organize your books?
Alphabetically. But I’m afraid they’re pretty much in disarray now.
What kind of reader were you as a child? What childhood books and authors are you most interested in?
We moved often because my dad was in the Air Force and he moved from base to base every two years. We were in Youngstown, Ohio; Biloxi, miss; Fairbanks, Alaska; Fort Worth, TX; Colorado Springs. Once a week my mother would take us to the base library or the public library in the town where we lived and my siblings and I would sit on the floor and read. I remember “Just So Stories” by Rudyard Kipling, fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” and “Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton, and of course Nancy Drew. I read my brother Howard’s copies of “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “The Lord of the Rings”. Somewhere along the way, my mother had purchased an old library full of books, including the 28 leather-bound volumes of the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Years later, I learned that it was written by the most able and opinionated literary scholars of the time.
You are organizing a literary dinner. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
I have repeatedly photographed the rooms and gardens of Charleston Farmhouse in the English countryside, as well as the house and gardens of Monk’s House, a few miles away, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived. In Charleston, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted the walls, the floor, the furniture, the lamps, the lampshades. The house occupies an important place in my imagination. I fantasize about having dinner there. The Woolfs and various other Bloomsbury personalities would be invited: EM Forster, Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington, John Maynard Keynes and his wife, Lydia Lopokova. Maybe Frederick Ashton and Vita Sackville-West and TS Eliot.