Q&A with the author of An Amputee’s Guide to Jules Verne, Nick DiMartino

amputee jules verne nick q&a

Q&A with the author of An Amputee’s Guide to Jules Verne, Nick DiMartino

1. What in the world led you to read all of Jules Verne?
It was an accident. I like exploring an author in depth. I was a bookseller on the U. W. campus for fifty years. My top priority activity is reading. Lately I’d been amassing the works of Henry James, Balzac, Melville, Dumas and Sir Walter Scott, thinking I’d spend my retirement reading the great respectable literary “heavies” I’d avoided all my life. Instead, I opened an unread advance of a Verne novel I’d never heard of called The Golden Volcano, about the Canadian gold rush. It was Verne doing Jack London. It was so surprising and thrilling and addicting I read another Verne novel, and another and another. And here we are.

2. Why is Verne the third most-read author in the world?
Only the Bible and Agatha Christie have a larger readership. Anyone anywhere who reads has heard of Around the World in 80 Days or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Journey to the Center of the Earth. The books have entered into world culture. It’s Verne’s generosity of spirit and his superb storytelling skills. His novels take place everywhere human beings can travel. His big ace isn’t scientific prophecy or cutting edge travel skills: it’s that he likes people. His characters are often funny, they have quirks and interests and personalities. They interact delightfully. His men bond as friends with a startling amount of physical affection. His women are bold and adventuresome, ahead of their time. You like these people. You’re glad to spend time with them. You freak out when their hopes crash, and weep with joy when they achieve the happiness they deserve.

3. How long did it take you?
I’m a slow reader and I read every word. But I read a lot. I notice that early in the day my attention is sharper (I can read up to 30 pages an hour) and that I read slower and remember less as the day wears on (down to 15-20 pages an hour). I started reading The Golden Volcano on the first of September 2022. I finished reading Off on a Comet on the second of October 2023. Just a little over 13 months: 66 novels and 27 essays in about 54 weeks. I thought nothing of my obsession until a friend in my amputee support group claimed the reason I was so cheerful and not plagued with a lot of phantom pain was my self-imposed Jules Verne Therapy.

4. Does Verne have any primary concerns?
Verne believes in something that almost seems old-fashioned today because no one thinks it’s wise anymore: doing one’s duty. Today we’re cynical about government and charity and brotherhood. That isn’t how men have always acted. The first time one of his heroes shrugs off his brave act with “Just doin’ my duty, ma’am,” I thought it was a vaudeville convention. Nope, it’s Verne’s bedrock. We’re all called upon to do our duty in society. The man believes in goodness.

5. Where is the librarian supposed to put this book?
This is a non-fiction memoir about reading 66 works of fiction. After an initial stay in New Releases, this is going to be a book found in many different corners of the library, depending on the mood of the librarian: it could go in Literary Criticism, in Romance Languages Studies, in Memoir/Autobiography, in Limb Difference.

6. Who did you write it for?
Initially, I wrote it for myself. There needed to be a guide to Jules Verne. I wanted company on my reading journey. I brought this book into existence so that the next person on this reading adventure could take me along as their support group. So, actually, I wrote it for you. Go ahead, start Verne somewhere and take me along. Almost all the novels are good. You’ll learn which versions to avoid. The newest translation is usually the best.

7. How does having an obsessive project heal an amputee?
They say caring for a pet increases your life expectancy. Having a project to care for acts the same way. I don’t know how people get through the day without trying to satisfy an outline for the day’s possible achievements.

8. What do you miss about mobility?
I didn’t have a car. I was a daily runner for 20 years and used to walk everywhere. I’ve had a life of constant mobility. I’m lucky. I’m grateful for every walk I took. My mornings feeding the crows in the park every day are over. Without my right leg, I notice my impulse to explore is gone. As a 77-year-old amputee, I’m a walking target, easily vulnerable. Furthermore, I’m having a hard time gathering the courage to adopt a new dog into our household. I miss living with dog energy. During his last couple years, I had an old dog who knew my routines and slept most of the day, keeping me company during long hours writing at my desk. A new dog would have new energy and needs. Just cleaning up all the poops-in-the-wrong-places involves activity that is awkward in a wheelchair. Can I do it? I don’t know.

9. What don’t you miss about mobility?
I’m an elderly reader and writer. The young suffer more. At this point of my life losing my typing fingers or my proofreading eyes would be so very much worse. Having one leg instead of two under the desk while I work is surprisingly unimportant.

10. What’s next after Verne and Baum?
I didn’t see either Verne or Baum on my event horizon – so I have no idea what will follow them. Choosing what I read is a borderline holy act. I’m nearly done writing a book similar to this one, An Amputee’s Guide to Oz, considering each of the 40 books in the Oz canon and the best of the many additions. But before I leave Baum behind, I’ve got to write a good Oz book. My first attempt with a 77-year-old hero, The Magic Wheelchair of Oz, didn’t satisfy me. I’ve started writing a second Oz book. This one has an 11-year-old hero with two legs. It’s about a kid’s frantic search for his grandmother who’s run away from her nursing home. It’s called The Sad Sorceress of Oz and it’s leaping into life. I’m still working on the first draft.

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