In 1958, Malcolm Cowley edited the first collection of interviews with contemporary authors from the pages of the Paris Review. Over the intervening half-century, the Review has packaged up more than a dozen additional volumes of this material, most recently in a new series, put together by departing Editor Philip Gourevitch. For most publications, such a project would have long ago reached the point of diminishing returns, but the Paris Review interviews offer a rare platform for a writer: a long-form Q&A, devoted to questions about craft and style, a vertical plunge into the aesthetic life.

Read the newly released box set "The Paris Review Interviews, Volumes I-IV" (Picador: $65), then, as a set of highlights, an in-depth look at the literature of the last half of the 20th century. The authors range from Philip Roth to Georges Simenon, Joan Didion to James Baldwin. William Faulkner takes the fatalistic view that "if I had not existed, someone else would have written me"; discussing his royalties from "Slaughterhouse-Five," Kurt Vonnegut cynically remarks, "I got three dollars for each person killed [in Dresden]. Imagine that." Raymond Carver rejects the minimalist label, while James M. Cain claims not to know what "hard-boiled" means. This is the good stuff, writers talking shop with other writers, letting down their guards to tell us what they really think and feel.

-- David L. Ulin