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What are your 10 favorite books —and why?
Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) —Simple, suspenseful, and poignant. Better yet, the first paragraph of every chapter is a master class in writing effective description.
Gödel, Escher, Bach (Douglas Hofstadter) —The 3% I actually understood was fascinating.
Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer) —I was amazed how well Archer handled the long time spans without ever losing the narrative pulse. The ultimate novel of sibling rivalry.
Plum Island (Nelson DeMille) —He remains the master of substance, wry humor, and controlled point of view.
The Bourne Identity Series (Ludlum) —Ludlum's early books are complex, smart, and yet still move at a lightning pace. This series got me interested in the genre of big-concept, international thrillers.
Much Ado About Nothing (William Shakespeare) —I didn't understand how funny this play truly was until I became an English teacher and had to teach it. There is no wittier dialogue anywhere.
Wordplay: Ambigrams and Reflections on the Art of Ambigrams (John Langdon) —Artist and philosopher John Langdon is one of our true geniuses. His book changed the way I think about symmetry, symbols, and art.
Codes Ciphers & Other Cryptic & Clandestine Communication (Fred Wrixon) —A phenomenal encyclopedia of the art, science, history, and philosophy of cryptology.
The Puzzle Palace (James Bamford) —Although dated, this book is still one of the most captivating inside looks at the covert world of America's premier intelligence agency.
The Elements of Style (Strunk and White) —Because who can possibly remember all the rules of grammar and punctuation?
My all-time favorites would have to be Fantasia, Life is Beautiful, Annie Hall, and Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. Of course, if you're looking for pure popcorn entertainment, you can't beat Indiana Jones or the Pink Panther series.
I've recently become hooked on the Spanish singer Franco de Vita. I also listen to The Gipsy Kings, Sarah Mclachlan, and Deva Premal.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading — and why?
The Golden Ratio: The Story Of Phi, The World's Most Astonishing Number (Mario Livio) — Admittedly, to imply that a book club could get excited talking about a "number" probably sounds far-fetched, but this book ties together themes of art history, nature, mathematics, philosophy, and religion in an accessible and eye-opening way. Sure to spark great discussions.
What are your favorite books to give — and get — as gifts?
This will sound nerdish, but the all-time best "gift book" has to be a leather-bound copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. How can you go wrong? Of course, don't forget a magnifying glass to go with it.
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
John Steinbeck for his descriptions…Robert Ludlum for his plotting…and Shakespeare for his wordplay.
What are you working on now?
Currently I'm writing another Robert Langdon thriller-the sequel to The Da Vinci Code. For the first time, Langdon will find himself embroiled in a mystery on U.S. soil. This new novel explores the hidden history of our nation's capital.
How do you weave so much information into your stories and yet keep them so fast-paced?
Writing an informative yet compact thriller is a lot like making maple sugar candy. You have to tap hundreds of trees…boil vats and vats of raw sap…evaporate the water…and keep boiling until you've distilled a tiny nugget that encapsulates the essence. Of course, this requires liberal use of the DELETE key. In many ways, editing yourself is the most important part of being a novelist…carving away superfluous text until your story stands crystal clear before your reader. For every page in a published novel, I wrote ten that ended up in the trash.
Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you. Be creative. Tell us about your first job, the inspiration for your writing, any fun details that would enliven your page.
If I'm not at my desk by 4:00 A.M., I feel like I'm missing my most productive hours. In addition to starting early, I keep an antique hour glass on my desk and every hour break briefly to do pushups, sit-ups, and some quick stretches. I find this helps keep the blood (and ideas) flowing. I'm also a big fan of gravity boots. Hanging upside down seems to help me solve plot challenges by shifting my entire perspective.
When is your next novel coming out?
Because my novels are so research-intensive, they take a couple of years to write. My next novel will be another Robert Langdon adventure (picking up, in fact, where The Da Vinci Code left off). Currently, there is no release date scheduled because the book is not yet near completion.
What else do you want your readers to know? Consider here your likes and dislikes, your interests and hobbies, your favorite ways to unwind — whatever comes to mind.
I've recently become fanatical about tennis (and play every afternoon when I finish writing). If anyone out here has any tips on hitting a consistent top-spin backhand, please fax them to Doubleday.