Author Interviews


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Dave Isay begins his latest book with words from someone he used to work with. She had a charming, meaningful name, Lillie Love, who died in 2010. And she said: Love is all there is. When you take your last breath you remember the people you love, how much love you inspired and how much love you gave.

Lillie Love was worked with David at the Atlanta office of his StoryCorps Project. Their new book is, "All There Is," and it's a collection of love stories and recollections. Dave Isay joins us from our studios in New York.

Dave, thanks for being with us.

DAVE ISAY: Scott, always great to talk to you.

SIMON: So, let me get the high hard one out first.


SIMON: What have you learned about love from all these folks?

ISAY: You know, I think in general, when you read this book, when you listen to these stories, one theme that keeps coming up is that no one should ever, ever give up hope on love.

SIMON: Yeah.

ISAY: And you see that in these stories over and over and over again that, you know, it seems like it's not in the cards for people, and then it just sneaks up behind you and there it is.

SIMON: Let's play an excerpt from one of these stories, if we can. Paul Wilson, who is now 93 years old, relates the story of how he met his wife to his daughter, Marty Smith.

PAUL WILSON: One day I was waiting in the lobby for the elevator, the door slid aside and there she stood: the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She was the operator. There were or four other people on the elevator, and I was the last one on Floor Number 10. And she opens the door and I said, thank you. And she said, you're welcome.

That was the total conversation that first contact. Of course, in the next few days, I saw her but I was so backward and bashful that I didn't say anything to her except: 10. She said, yes, I know.


WILSON: Thank goodness, she broke the ice. She said, do you know where you can get some good chop suey? How about that for an opening line?


WILSON: I said: Sure, the cafe across the street is a Chinese cafe. They serve chop suey.

MARTY SMITH: I sensed that she set that up.


WILSON: I realized later she did. And we had chop suey and we got acquainted. We got married right there in my mother's living room and we had a 63-year honeymoon. And, as you often say to me, when part company, you say life is good. And I have to thin, yeah, life is good even though I've lost my sweetheart.


SMITH: Who was it that said the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother?

WILSON: I did my best.


SMITH: Hmm, you did.

WILSON: We were real lovers, and every day is a memorial for her.

SIMON: Paul Wilson telling his daughter, Marty Smith, about how he met her mother. Boy...


SIMON: You have to take a breath after that.

ISAY: I think most of these stories aren't sad but people always talk about these stories making them cry. I think that it's because, you know, you're hearing something authentic. You're hearing people speak from a place of honesty and generosity. Nobody is looking for 15 minutes of fame. Nobody is looking for anything but to kind of express their love to another human being, and talk about what's meaningful in their life.

SIMON: Let's play a clip from one story. Gran Kestenbaum, 63, tells her friend, Darlene Griggs, about the husband she lost and loved.

GRANVILETTE KESTENBAUM: He fell on me at a party.


KESTENBAUM: And I thought he was the goofiest guy I'd ever met in my life. He had a shirt that was so rumpled and a pair of shoes, one of which had many rubber bands wrapped around it because the sole was coming apart. Some weeks later, he called me. He said, Hello this is Howie. And I said, Howie who? He said, Fine thank you. How are you? And I just thought I can't walk around with this guy.


KESTENBAUM: The next year in June, we were married. And then for 31 years, we were together. And he started asking me maybe six weeks before 9/11: Do you love me, honey? I said: You will always have my deep and abiding love. And I don't know why I said that. I'm glad I did.


KESTENBAUM: He's always going to be 56 in my mind. I'm going to be an old shriveled up mass, but he will be 56.

SIMON: Dave, I don't think I know anybody since the late Ann Landers who has listened to more love stories than you at this point...


SIMON: ...on behalf of a lot of people. What do you think makes love work?

ISAY: It's clear from reading these stories that it's about honest relationships. It's about people who deeply connect to each other as human beings. It's about not settling for anything less than what feels right.

You know, there's a story in the book and it's an 85-year-old guy talking about his wife. And they were driving through Philadelphia right when he came back after World War II and saw a roadside sign. And it said: Successful Marriage - things, you know, to always say to your loved one: You look great. Can I help? Let's eat out. I'm sorry, and I love you.


ISAY: And, you know, he says that those guided their marriage for 53 years, two months and five days. And that pretty much sums it up.

SIMON: God. Whoa. Got to find that sign.


SIMON: Dave Isay, his new book is "All There Is: Collection of Love Stories From StoryCorps," speaking from New York.

Dave, thanks so much.

ISAY: Thanks, Scott.

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