I find it harder to read fiction when I’m working on a book, especially if it’s close at all in sensibility or subject matter or otherwise feels overlap-py or adjacent to what I’m writing about. But this only applies to when I’m really, actively, truly working on a book — if I’m stuck or between bursts of productivity or editing, then I can read fiction just fine.
Often when I’m working on something, I’ll want to read something totally different than what I am thinking about, to give my brain a break (and/or give my subconscious a chance to keep cranking). It also gives me an excuse to go book shopping and buy something that I otherwise wouldn’t allow myself. Some big new hardcover about corporate malfeasance. I love a good business failure book. Maybe because I worked as a corporate lawyer or in corporations for half my career.
Do you count any books as guilty pleasures?
Audiobooks. Hardcovers are still my favorite, then trade paperbacks. E-books have their advantages, of course (on a plane, at night in bed, early in the morning when turning pages would wake up my wife), but there are just some books that are destined for my monthly Audible credit. Usually nonfiction, the kind of dense, 600-page Big Idea book. Not sure why I feel guilty — maybe because as someone who is more of a visual learner than an auditory one, I usually retain a little less from a book I listened to.
Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?
This year my kids and I read “Animal Farm” and “The Old Man and the Sea” together. We take turns reading to one another out loud, for as long as they stay engaged — I don’t want it to become a chore. I’ll keep an eye on their energy level, inflection, body language. There’s a point where the attention drops off and when I notice it, we call it a night. Usually that’s about half an hour, maybe 40 minutes. But there was one time, near the end of “Animal Farm,” when it was my turn to read and we had already been going for a while, and I said we would continue next time and they acted like I’d turned off a movie at their favorite part. They howled and protested and begged to keep going. So we did.
In general, it produces a lot of wonderful things: They learn new words, new ideas (and old ideas), and we get into some wide-ranging conversations. We don’t do it every night — part of not wanting it to feel like an obligation — but when we have a good read together, it’s great. I try not to smile too hard — if they ever realized how happy it makes me, they might start feeling like they’re being duped.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
In the fall, my wife and I went to a PEN America event in Los Angeles and someone at our table recommended a book by Lisa Damour called “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.” I found it really helpful, but I especially loved a definition of emotional intelligence cited in the book: seeing yourself from the outside, and seeing others from the inside.
Which books got you hooked on speculative fiction? Are there any science fiction books you would elevate to the canon?