In the Green Room

Biologist and Nature Writer Bill Streever

The Author of Heat Prefers the Winter Olympics

Bill Streever

Biologist and nature writer Bill Streever is the author most recently of Heat: Adventures in the World’s Fiery Places; his previous book was Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places. Before talking in Phoenix about why we love hot places, the Alaska native talked about his state’s secrets, the last great books he read—and there are a few—and why coming up with good ideas is easy, but figuring out which ones will stick is tougher.


Q:
Who’s your favorite superhero?

A:
It’s easy for me to say Superman, but that wouldn’t be right. Do I have a favorite superhero? … Einstein, does he count?

Q:
What’s your biggest pet peeve?

A:
People who are too inflexible to enjoy originality.

Q:
What do you wish more people from the lower 48 states knew about Alaska?

A:
That Alaska is by far the greatest state in the United States.

Q:
Air conditioning: yea or nay?

A:
It depends on the climate. For sure here [in Arizona]. In Alaska I don’t have air conditioning, and I went for seven years without turning air conditioning on in my car. One year we had an unusually hot day in the summer, and I turned it on, and much to my surprise it worked.

Q:
What’s the best gift you’ve ever given someone else?

A:
When I got married I gave my wife a custom-made metal grandfather clock made in California to commemorate the fact that after many months of long-distance dating, we were not only living in the same place but sharing the same clock and the same time zone.

Q:
What music have you listened to today?

A:
I’ve actually been sleeping all day because I have a cold of all things—to show up in Arizona with a cold! One song I love that a lot of people don’t know is “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors.”

Q:
Winter Olympics or Summer Olympics?

A:
Winter Olympics. To me it’s more exciting, more speed. High-speed skiing, bobsledding, that sort of thing.

Q:
What’s your favorite plant or flower?

A:
Probably the rafflesia—a very large tropical flower. It grows in Borneo.

Q:
What’s the last great book you read?

A:
I read so many great books … I’m reading a book right now called Canada. I don’t often read novels, but it’s a fantastic novel by Richard Ford. Another recent book I really enjoyed was Nothing to Envy, about North Korea. And the other was China Road, about an NPR correspondent who traveled by road thousands of miles across China. And another one—actually, this would be probably the best book I’ve read in a while—was called Dangerous Work. I reviewed it for The New York Times. It was written by Arthur Conan Doyle: his journals from his time in the Arctic, when he was 20 years old and served on a sailing vessel.

Q:
Where do you come up with your best ideas?

A:
Just in day-to-day life, talking to people, being outside, reading, listening to music. It’s not so much coming up with the best idea; it’s filtering them to come up with the idea that works best. For every idea that’s good, there’s 100 ideas that seem good but don’t last.


*Photo by Felipe Ruiz-Acosta.
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