Reading, McCarthy said, is a necessary part of writing.
“Practical advice, I believe, would be to read,” he said in 1969, when asked about advice for aspiring authors. “You have to know what’s been done. And you have to understand it.”
Writers who influenced him, he said, included “gutsy writers,” like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, William Faulkner, James Joyce and Herman Melville. In the article from 1971, which ran under the headline “McCarthy Is One of Nation’s Most Remarked Young Authors,” McCarthy said he had more than 1,500 books in his collection, which ranged from contemporary novels to the collected works of Greek playwrights.
What he was not interested in, he said, were “bad” books.
“I don’t read bad books,” he said in 1975. “I can’t physically make my eyes move across the page.”
“My ideal,” McCarthy told The Maryville-Alcoa Times in 1971, “would be to be completely independent. If I could, I’d have a small mill to generate our electricity. But you have to compromise. On one hand there is a nine-to-five job you don’t like and a totally artificial life. At the other end is the life of a hermit. But I don’t want to be cut off from society and have to make some compromise.”
Luce, the scholar who found his Tennessee interviews, said his desire for privacy was not based in shyness. His former wife, De Lisle, told Luce that McCarthy made friends easily and was happy to socialize with strangers when the couple traveled through Europe and Mexico. Early articles described him as amiable and charming. But he asked De Lisle not to share details of their life together, Luce said, and instructed friends not to speak to anyone about him.
Rather than a man who wants to live in solitude, the image that emerges from the interviews is of an author who wished to remain a private person even as his public reputation grew.
“The home was once a one-story block dairy barn, located near a loosely graveled road a half mile beyond other signs of civilization in Lakewood Addition, along Louisville Road,” said the 1971 article. “Few Blount Countians are aware that anyone is living in the old barn. Even fewer know the owner has carefully, almost word by word, handcrafted two of the most remarkable novels to come out of the South since William Faulkner was at his peak.”