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Andrew McCarthy Harbors a Secret Fantasy to Play Fagin

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I’ve recorded a number of books. I find it challenging work. I think it reminds me of being a kid, having to read aloud in grammar school and hating it, stumbling over words, feeling judged, feeling stupid. While narrating “Brat” I was making so many mistakes at one point that the engineer I was working with asked me if I wrote it. (I assured him, and I assure you, that I did.) But to your question, I’m sure I was asked to narrate “Imperial Bedrooms” because I was in the film version of “Less Than Zero” (a film which bears little resemblance to the book). I really admire Bret’s work, he’s pretty fearless about his fear. But with its long, unpunctuated sentences, I found “Imperial Bedrooms” particularly difficult to narrate. And the last several pages are quite brutal. But that novel achieves something rare — the entire narrative pays off in the final sentence.

What character from literature would you most like to play?

The first part I ever played in high school, the one that set my course as an actor, was the Artful Dodger in “Oliver!” (exclamation point theirs), based of course on Dickens’s “Oliver Twist.” Since then I’ve harbored a secret fantasy to play Fagin when I’m an old man. But as I’m approaching the appropriate age, my inability to carry a tune remains a stumbling block, so my dream appears unlikely to be realized.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

A bit late to the party, I just read “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari. The notion that humans are the only species on the planet who create fiction kind of blew my mind.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

While obviously not a genre, “quiet” books (a term I dislike and suspect that all writers who have ever had the word leveled against their books dislike, too), books like John Williams’s “Stoner,” Maile Meloy’s collection of stories, “Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It” (which also wins the award for best title), and anything by Alistair MacLeod — simple, human stories — are the books I find stay with me longest and cut deepest. And maybe it’s the travel writer in me, but I’m always anxious to get back to a book that exhibits a strong sense of place. Doris Lessing’s “The Grass Is Singing” and Jane Harper’s “The Dry” jump to mind.

But I rarely choose what to read based on genre. That said, I’m always happy to fall into the world of a hard-boiled, solitary, private eye who ultimately does the right thing, not because he wants to, but goddamn it, because something inside him says he has to. As far as genres I avoid, I’ve always found science fiction completely unengaging. I realize this speaks only to my utter lack of imagination.

How do you organize your books?

They are randomly put on a shelf. I’ve promised myself that one day I’ll organize them, but I seem to know where most books are when I want them, so that task isn’t much of a priority.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

“The Cavalry Horseshoer’s Technical Manual.”

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