We recently interviewed the Library’s 2019 spring Visiting Fellow, Ian Leslie, on his time at the Library, his current project, and his highlights of Paris.
Tell us about your current project.
I’m working on a book about what I’m calling “productive disagreement”. It seems to me that we’re totally unprepared for a world in which everyone can disagree with anyone all the time and the result is a toxic public discourse. But we don’t want to stop disagreeing and arguing – that’s how you get new insights and ideas. So how do we get at having conflicts without falling out?
How did the American Library in Paris Visiting Fellowship enable you to advance with your research and/or writing?
First of all, it enabled me to immerse myself in the project because so many of the distractions of home (many of which are quite wonderful) were not with me. Second, working among the books sent me off on serendipitous journeys; I would pick up a book and it would find its way into mine. Third, the stimulation of meeting the library’s community of curious, interesting and interested people.
What are your ideal writing conditions? And do you have any tips for anyone experiencing writer’s block?
Pretty much as above. The only cure for writer’s block is turning off your internal critic in order to get that first draft done. Honestly, writing any old rubbish is a thousand times better than writing nothing. So get it out there. It’s probably not as bad as you think.
What was the highlight of your visit to Paris and/or the Library?
A recurring highlight was gathering my provisions for dinner at home, with visits to the boucherie, the fromagerie, the boulangerie. The touch and smell of a warm baguette.
What did your family think of their trip to Paris? Family highlights?
My family loved their visit and I think my children will remember it forever. My little boy walks around clutching his model of the Tour Eiffel (we went all the way to the top, which was hellish for me and heavenly for them). I hope that for them it’s the beginning of a lifelong friendship with the beautiful city.
What are you reading now? What’s on your “to read” list?
I’m reading The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand and it is utterly brilliant. Next up? Knowing Mandela by John Carlin.