As a younger man, Hunter wrote and edited for the Baltimore Sun; in 1997, he became the film critic for The Washington Post. In 2003 he won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism. Hunter has written 19 novels and three nonfiction books. He is working on his 20th novel, about a female sniper in Russia during World War II.
He recently talked with The Post at a coffee shop near his home. This is an edited excerpt.
— Laura Hambleton
Let’s talk about aging.
I understand that I get tireder now, but I don’t ascribe that to aging. I understand that my fine-motor coordination is all shot to hell, but I don’t ascribe that to aging. I understand that my memory is a parody of what it once was, but I don’t ascribe that to aging. I just sort of cultivate the fantasy that these things are unrelated. I am aware that that is an illusion, but for me it is a helpful illusion.
The other day, I was at a party talking to a few people, and I was up against the food table. Someone bent over to try to get something that I was in the way of and he bumped me. He said, “Excuse me, excuse me.” He was 14. I said, ‘That’s all right. I’m old. You can push me around.” We both laughed.
I enjoy doing that, but I don’t walk around feeling old.
Is being old bad?
In and of itself, no. Being ineffective is bad, being of a complaining mood is bad, being in chronic pain is bad, being slow to react is bad, not getting it is bad. On the other hand, I am attracted to ideas of wisdom. I am attracted to the image of the old dog. I am attracted to the image of the professional with a sensibility to certain experiences that are unique. I know what I can do. I know what I can’t do.
I feel old when I have to get up to go to the bathroom for the fourth time and it’s 5 in the morning. On the other hand, getting back to bed after that event is enormously satisfying.
What is easier in old age?
I don’t want to say I have mastered the craft [of writing books], but I feel a lot more confident. I am capable of doing things and seeing things and making things happen in ways that I was not even five years ago. I feel like I am smarter than I was 10 years ago. I feel like I’m a lot smarter than I was 20 years ago, and I feel like I’m a lot smarter than I was 30 years ago.
What do you mean by “smarter”?
I mean book-smart. I mean understanding the systems of governance and culture. I mean sort of understanding those things that are worth investing anger or emotion in and those things that aren’t. I mean social smarts, the ability to interact with different kinds of people and to be comfortable in different, challenging professional situations. I mean verbal quickness.