How NOT to Interview Abraham Verghese on the Day After Publication of His Oprah’s Book Club Pick
You know what they say about best laid plans? Well, that goes double when Oprah calls. Even when she doesn’t call you.
Last week I was thrilled to be asked to “chat” onstage with novelist and physician extraordinaire Abraham Verghese for the series Live Talks Los Angeles. Though I’d never before met him, I’d loved Verghese’s first novel, Cutting For Stone, when it came out a decade ago. I’d traveled in Kerala, India, the location of his new novel, The Covenant of Water, and I’d written two novels of my own about India during the same turbulent colonial period when most of this story takes place. So I knew we’d find a lot to talk about.
I’ve interviewed others for Live Talks, including Amy Tan and Pico Iyer. I prepare diligently for these events, both as a sign of respect for the authors and also as the best strategy for managing my own stage fright before large audiences. For this conversation I needed to inhale all 724 pages of The Covenant of Water inside of a week. I had to get cozy with more than 30 key characters and their masterfully interwoven plot lines. I needed to absorb the whole multi-generational saga so I could discuss its vast scope and humanity in detail. Or so I thought.
What I didn’t know was that The Covenant of Water would be selected for Oprah’s book club the week of our chat. And what I didn’t factor into my preparation was the fact that we’d be discussing the novel just one day after its publication date.
Before I tell you why these facts mattered, let me share my prep with you. Maybe you’ll be able to see what I was getting wrong.
My game plan
Fortunately, Dr. Verghese’s 724 pages are so lush and compelling that it was a pleasure to drop everything and immerse myself in his fictional world for a week. When I emerged, the structure for our conversation seemed obvious.
We’d spend the first part of our chat discussing the story, which I planned to introduce as:
An epic family saga encompassing 3 generations across 7…