What books are on your night stand now?
The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge, Mercies in Disguise by Gina Kolata, Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, and The Familiar Book 4: Hades by Mark Z. Danielewski
What’s the last great book you read?
Hallberg’s “City on Fire” was the last five-star great, but more recently. Zadie Smith’s “Swing Time” and Nathan Hill’s “The Nix” were both great with caveats.
What’s the best classic novel you recently read for the first time?
No unread novels, but I read the unabridged “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Gibbons (3400 pages!) last fall, and it was worth the effort. Two novels I re-read recently for the first time in decades were William Gaddis’s “The Recognitions” and “JR.”
What’s your favorite book that no one else has heard of?
Seems that few people appreciated Ethan Canin’s most recent novel, “A Doubter’s Almanac.” Wonderful!
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
“Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
What moves you most in a work of literature?
Although I love nonlinear puzzle books, I still expect good story-telling. But the language must sing on a line-by-line basis.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
Xanther of Danielewski’s Familiar series. Anti-hero- Probably Tyrone Slothrop of Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow.” (I’m not overly concerned with strong protagonists, however.)
Whose journalism style do you most admire?
Longish investigative pieces on little-known subjects. More in the style of The Economist or Seymour Hersh than typical NYT/WaPo fare, however.
Which do you prefer, if any, "straight" articles by journalists or editorials?
A good op-ed can be enjoyable, but I’d like to get the facts first, as many as possible.
I know music is a big part of your life. What grabs you when listening to something for the first time? Is it instinctive?
Instinctual grabs are paramount. I like to see fine crafting and odd time signatures, but that can come with heavily orchestrated works or simple minimalist efforts. Two recent albums that were exquisitely arranged and produced, but which grabbed me at gut level first, were Laura Marling’s “Once I was An Eagle’ and Torres’ “Sprinter.”
What would you look for in a music review?
Tell a story about how you think the artist has changed or evolved, but get the details right. Good-natured humor is wonderful, but droll, biting comments just look arrogant.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
I was a voracious reader from age 5 or 6, heavily into sci-fi, so authors like Madeleine L’Engle and Ray Bradbury were important. But by 12 or 13, I was already on to Vonnegut, Pynchon, Updike, etc.
What genres do you gravitate to especially? Which do you avoid?
Literary? Still enjoy sci-fi, speculative, fantasy, but I also like what one might call odd story-telling. I also like a lot of non-fiction, particularly history, foreign policy, etc. I don’t tend to read many romances or Westerns, but just about anything else. But I will say, the rash of 1980s brat-pack novels, and their modern emulators, focusing on life and loves in a few square blocks of Manhattan or Brooklyn, I found incredibly tedious.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Pynchon. Maybe trite choices, but it’s my dinner party!
What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t?
I really didn’t care for Joshua Cohen’s “Book of Numbers,” or Mark Binelli’s “Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ All-Time Greatest Hits.” I’m still making my mind up about Karl Ove Knausgaard’s magnum opus.
What do you plan to read next?
George Saunders’ “Lincoln in the Bardo” will have to make my list pretty soon.