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9 questions with Sarah Perry

“It’s the worst of media and the worst of mankind distilled into one publication.”

Javier Zarracina

This week, Sarah Perry — novelist and author of The Essex Serpent — answers our questions.

What’s the first piece of media you consume every day?

The first thing I do every day is read the morning edition of the internet: Twitter, Instagram, and the newspapers and journals whose accounts I follow. It is extremely addictive, horribly time-consuming, generally unspeakably depressing, and a habit I need to break.

Name a writer or publication you disagree with but still read.

I often hate-read the Daily Mail. It’s the worst of media and the worst of mankind distilled into one publication and in some ways it feels a moral duty to be familiar with it. Too often we all bolt ourselves into an echo chamber, which I think lacks courage, and can lead to a kind of intellectual conceitedness.

Who is the person who has most influenced the way you think?

I suppose, given a childhood saturated in the King James Bible — read at mealtimes, studied, memorized, and recited — I would probably have to say William Tyndale.

When was the last time you changed your mind about something?

I change my mind about Jeremy Corbyn, current leader of the opposition, with terrifying frequency. Where he is concerned I feel like a chimera comprised of 50 percent Mulder (I want to believe) and 50 percent Scully (but I am deeply skeptical).

What’s your worst intellectual habit?

I've a deplorable tendency to become entrenched in my own prejudices: If I dislike an artist, an art form, or an idea (jazz, ballet, certain kinds of fiction) it is extremely difficult to get me to change my mind, and all evidence presented to the contrary will be discarded and very likely mocked. Of course, nobody suffers but me.

What inspires you to learn?

Learning itself — because the more I know, the more I know I don't know. For example, I recently watched a short documentary which introduced me to Tabby's Star, whose irregular changes in its transmission of light some believe may offer evidence of extraterrestrial life. I soon found myself seeking out the astronomers on Twitter monitoring the star, and idly wondering if it was too late to do a physics degree.

What do you need to believe in order to get through the day?

That there is moral virtue in art.

What’s a view that you hold but can’t defend?

I have a Christian faith, which is only a shadow of a shadow of the kind of faith I was brought up with, but which is still there. As with all faith, it is absolutely indefensible.

What book have you recommended the most?

Fludd, by Hilary Mantel. She has rightly been considered one of our greatest living writers since Wolf Hall, but she was already a colossus well before then, and Fludd is perhaps my favorite: It is short, Gothic, funny, sharp, and contains a fantastically sexy scene in which the devil slowly removes a nun's wimple in a bed-and-breakfast in the North of England.

You can read last week’s edition of 9 Questions with Celeste Ng here.

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