Do you distinguish between “commercial” and “literary” fiction? Where’s that line, for you?
I prefer commercial fiction because it usually lacks angst-filled navel gazing.
How do you organize your books?
This question made me laugh. Nothing in my life is organized, especially not my books. I have three large bookcases crammed with the nonfiction I use for research. In the hallway between my bedroom and office are five knee-high stacks of more history books that for now have no home. Hoping to purchase at least two more bookcases sometime during this lifetime.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
Most surprising book on my shelves might be “Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons.”
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
“The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements,” written by William W. Brown in 1863. I’d been looking for it for years. I’d given up hope when a reader noticed it was back in print and sent me a copy in the mail.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a voracious reader. I read newspapers, cereal boxes, every book in my local library, my dad’s college biology books — anything I could put my little eyeballs on was fair game. The author that stands out for me as a young reader: Beverly Cleary.
How have your reading tastes changed over time?
I’m still reading as much and as widely as I can, so that hasn’t changed. What has changed is being able to enjoy works by authors of color. There were very few when I was growing up in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Do books serve a moral function, in your view? How so?
I believe they do. Books can entertain, educate and inspire readers to be more. They can allow us to share the experiences of people from different cultures and places, and open the world to children like myself who’d never been more than a few miles from the east side of Detroit. I always say the best gift you can give any child is a library card.