Dan Fesperman answers 13 questions in a Booker's Dozen.

TPQ: What are you currently reading? 

DF: Ross McDonald’s early Lew Archer novels, set on the strange and atmospheric dreamscape of Southern California in the late 1940s, which is a wondrous place to escape to during the pandemic, plus anything I can get my hands on by Charles Yu (just started his short story collection after polishing off his two novels), Bolivar, a massive and fascinating biography by Marie Arana, and David Mitchell’s latest, Utopia Avenue. I tend to have several books going at once, with more than a dozen contenders lined up behind them. As a result, the floor near my nightstand looks like the aftermath of a library explosion.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

DF:  Oh, wow. The first part of that question always ties me in knots, partly because it’s so hard to pick just one, so I almost never do, and instead start dividing my all-time likes into subcategories and different eras, and pretty soon, if you happen to be in the same room, I’m grabbing copies off my bookshelves and demanding that you read them, and in a little while longer you’re checking your watch and eyeing the door and wishing you’d never asked. So I’ll limit myself to just three – no, make it four – with three of them being novels. Best book from earlier in life: All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, partly because it so aptly plumbs the emotional depths (or shallows, in my case) of a yearning young man, even as it limns the nature of power and charisma. Best book that almost none of my friends has ever heard of: In the Memory of the Forest, an absolutely beautiful first novel by a onetime foreign correspondent, Charles Powers, set in Poland in the early 1990s. It was also his last novel, because Powers died of some sort of blood disorder just before the book was published, which only deepens the novel’s mystique. Find it and read it. Best book I’ve read in recent years: A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson. Swept me away, hypnotized me with its richness of imagination and prose, and then shook me awake with a jarring narrative twist which at first wounded me but later, as time passed, impressed the hell out of me. Best book that isn’t fiction: The Power Broker, by Robert Caro, which, at 1,500-plus pages, is a virtuoso performance that never flags, never bores, never fails to inspire wonder.

As for the worst, that would be P.J. O’Rourke’s Give War a Chance, a Republicanesque attempt at wit and humor which lost me for good when it began making sport of a caravan of weary refugees streaming out of Iraq during the Gulf War. I’d witnessed some of those caravans, and there was nothing humorous about them, and I say that as someone who generally appreciates dark humor. The book’s attitude is smug and jingoistic, and I finished it only because I had to review it.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

DF: You Will Go To The Moon, by Mae and Ira Freeman. There is nothing particularly compelling about its prose. It’s a 1959 volume for young readers that I must have leafed through a hundred times. It’s mostly a picture story, and its drawings of a small boy accompanying astronauts on a flight to the moon, and then living on their base for a few days, represented the sum of all desires for me as a second grader. And I know this will sound particularly stupid, but one of the most captivating drawings was one showing the boy still able to watch baseball games on TV even while he was on the moon! Alas, I have not gone to the moon, so in that sense I feel like the authors badly misled me.

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

DF: John R. Tunis. His baseball novels were the best. This also gives you an idea of how limited I was as a reader until I was in high school. Sports novels and cheapo serialized stuff like the Hardy Boys were about as adventuresome as I got.

TPQ: First book to really own you?

DF: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. I was 16, and it was a revelation. Up to then, I had enjoyed assigned books like Great Expectations, Ethan Frome, A Farewell to Arms, and so on, although none of them had really set me on fire. Then I took a high school English class called “Best Sellers,” with a fairly daring teacher, Kathleen Moloney, who had us read Vonnegut and Eldridge Cleaver and other current books which, for the North Carolina public schools of 1972, were pretty edgy. Slaughterhouse Five was like nothing I’d seen before. Witty, offhand, irreverent, moving. It had a sci-fi hook, but was also a war novel, and the writing was serious even when it was being flippant. Death? So it goes. After I finished I went out to libraries and bookstores to collect and read everything Vonnegut had ever written, and this established a lifelong pattern. From that day forward, whenever I found an author who captured my fancy, I’d binge until I’d exhausted their backlist. I remember that halfway through Cat’s Cradle I heard that Vonnegut would be appearing on some book show on a channel which was then known as “educational TV.” I think my parents were a bit surprised that an author interview was suddenly must-see television for their high-school junior. So, yes, that book owned me, and that class changed my life.

TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

DF: John Le Carre, mostly because he can nail a character in a single sentence, and also because of the rich density of his prose. You sink into it like a deep luxurious cushion from which you never want to get up. And Kate Atkinson, whose work makes me laugh, moves me deeply, and crafts beautiful sentences along the way, although Hilary Mantel is not far behind.

A Berlin Book Tower in memory of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

DF: Fiction, which I suppose is pretty obvious by now.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

DF: The Power Broker, by Robert Caro. See above. And, because I’m so obsessed with the greatness of this book, I tend to recommend it to everyone, even though it weighs enough to kill you if it were ever to fall on you while reading in bed. It’s the best study of the acquisition, use and abuse of power that I’ve ever read. But that makes it sound boring, or scientific. It’s not. It’s full of life on every page. In the few months that it took me to read it, I was continually irritating my wife by insisting on reading aloud certain passages that impressed me along the way. She was quite relieved when I finished, but now has to hear me drone on about it at parties whenever someone asks a question like yours.

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

DF: The ones by the whole crowd at Fox News – Hannity, O’Reilly, Carlson, Ingraham, Dobbs. All of them. I can’t even see their work on a table at a bookstore without experiencing a visceral urge to sweep them onto the floor.

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

DF: Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby. Yes, that’s me whenever I become obsessed with my great passion for college basketball, specifically as it’s played by the North Carolina Tar Heels. Whenever I look like I’m deep in thought, or contemplating some great existential question, I’m probably actually re-living the final seconds of an agonizing loss to Duke, or basking in the glow of the final seconds of the 2017 title game against Gonzaga. Because, yes, I am a shallow and simple-minded male who lets far too many of his moods be determined by the fortunes of a team that I have no control over. And Hornby recognizes that for so many of us who are similarly afflicted, no matter how intelligent, that this passion will always have the power to pulp our brain to the consistency of banana pudding.

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

DF: Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu. Sent a copy to my son in Montana. Fresh and original and funny, yet also very moving.

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

DF: The one I just started writing. Partly because I like the idea of turning a Stasi foreign intelligence guy, who is about to get his last paycheck in 1990, into a noir antihero who I think would be fun to portray on the screen. Partly because it would be fun to see someone else’s vision of something I created. Otherwise? Maybe Polar Star, which was one of Martin Cruz Smith’s early Arkady Renko novels. I’d love to see that strange world aboard a fish factory ship translated to the screen.

TPQ: A "must read" you intend getting to before you die?

DF: I was on the verge of saying The Charterhouse of Parma, because I heard someone raving about it recently, and have always been charmed by the Old World gravity of its title. But frankly my ‘must read’ list is always going to consist of whatever new release is due out next from one of my favorite authors. Those are always the books I desire the most.

 Dan Fesperman is a US author based in Baltimore. His latest book is Safe Houses. For more about his works see danfesperman.com

Booker's Dozen @ Dan Fesperman

Dan Fesperman answers 13 questions in a Booker's Dozen.

TPQ: What are you currently reading? 

DF: Ross McDonald’s early Lew Archer novels, set on the strange and atmospheric dreamscape of Southern California in the late 1940s, which is a wondrous place to escape to during the pandemic, plus anything I can get my hands on by Charles Yu (just started his short story collection after polishing off his two novels), Bolivar, a massive and fascinating biography by Marie Arana, and David Mitchell’s latest, Utopia Avenue. I tend to have several books going at once, with more than a dozen contenders lined up behind them. As a result, the floor near my nightstand looks like the aftermath of a library explosion.

TPQ: Best and worst books you have ever read?

DF:  Oh, wow. The first part of that question always ties me in knots, partly because it’s so hard to pick just one, so I almost never do, and instead start dividing my all-time likes into subcategories and different eras, and pretty soon, if you happen to be in the same room, I’m grabbing copies off my bookshelves and demanding that you read them, and in a little while longer you’re checking your watch and eyeing the door and wishing you’d never asked. So I’ll limit myself to just three – no, make it four – with three of them being novels. Best book from earlier in life: All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren, partly because it so aptly plumbs the emotional depths (or shallows, in my case) of a yearning young man, even as it limns the nature of power and charisma. Best book that almost none of my friends has ever heard of: In the Memory of the Forest, an absolutely beautiful first novel by a onetime foreign correspondent, Charles Powers, set in Poland in the early 1990s. It was also his last novel, because Powers died of some sort of blood disorder just before the book was published, which only deepens the novel’s mystique. Find it and read it. Best book I’ve read in recent years: A God in Ruins, by Kate Atkinson. Swept me away, hypnotized me with its richness of imagination and prose, and then shook me awake with a jarring narrative twist which at first wounded me but later, as time passed, impressed the hell out of me. Best book that isn’t fiction: The Power Broker, by Robert Caro, which, at 1,500-plus pages, is a virtuoso performance that never flags, never bores, never fails to inspire wonder.

As for the worst, that would be P.J. O’Rourke’s Give War a Chance, a Republicanesque attempt at wit and humor which lost me for good when it began making sport of a caravan of weary refugees streaming out of Iraq during the Gulf War. I’d witnessed some of those caravans, and there was nothing humorous about them, and I say that as someone who generally appreciates dark humor. The book’s attitude is smug and jingoistic, and I finished it only because I had to review it.

TPQ: Book most cherished as a child?

DF: You Will Go To The Moon, by Mae and Ira Freeman. There is nothing particularly compelling about its prose. It’s a 1959 volume for young readers that I must have leafed through a hundred times. It’s mostly a picture story, and its drawings of a small boy accompanying astronauts on a flight to the moon, and then living on their base for a few days, represented the sum of all desires for me as a second grader. And I know this will sound particularly stupid, but one of the most captivating drawings was one showing the boy still able to watch baseball games on TV even while he was on the moon! Alas, I have not gone to the moon, so in that sense I feel like the authors badly misled me.

TPQ: Favourite Childhood author?

DF: John R. Tunis. His baseball novels were the best. This also gives you an idea of how limited I was as a reader until I was in high school. Sports novels and cheapo serialized stuff like the Hardy Boys were about as adventuresome as I got.

TPQ: First book to really own you?

DF: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. I was 16, and it was a revelation. Up to then, I had enjoyed assigned books like Great Expectations, Ethan Frome, A Farewell to Arms, and so on, although none of them had really set me on fire. Then I took a high school English class called “Best Sellers,” with a fairly daring teacher, Kathleen Moloney, who had us read Vonnegut and Eldridge Cleaver and other current books which, for the North Carolina public schools of 1972, were pretty edgy. Slaughterhouse Five was like nothing I’d seen before. Witty, offhand, irreverent, moving. It had a sci-fi hook, but was also a war novel, and the writing was serious even when it was being flippant. Death? So it goes. After I finished I went out to libraries and bookstores to collect and read everything Vonnegut had ever written, and this established a lifelong pattern. From that day forward, whenever I found an author who captured my fancy, I’d binge until I’d exhausted their backlist. I remember that halfway through Cat’s Cradle I heard that Vonnegut would be appearing on some book show on a channel which was then known as “educational TV.” I think my parents were a bit surprised that an author interview was suddenly must-see television for their high-school junior. So, yes, that book owned me, and that class changed my life.

TPQ: Favourite male and female author?

DF: John Le Carre, mostly because he can nail a character in a single sentence, and also because of the rich density of his prose. You sink into it like a deep luxurious cushion from which you never want to get up. And Kate Atkinson, whose work makes me laugh, moves me deeply, and crafts beautiful sentences along the way, although Hilary Mantel is not far behind.

A Berlin Book Tower in memory of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

DF: Fiction, which I suppose is pretty obvious by now.

TPQ: Biography, autobiography or memoir that most impressed you?

DF: The Power Broker, by Robert Caro. See above. And, because I’m so obsessed with the greatness of this book, I tend to recommend it to everyone, even though it weighs enough to kill you if it were ever to fall on you while reading in bed. It’s the best study of the acquisition, use and abuse of power that I’ve ever read. But that makes it sound boring, or scientific. It’s not. It’s full of life on every page. In the few months that it took me to read it, I was continually irritating my wife by insisting on reading aloud certain passages that impressed me along the way. She was quite relieved when I finished, but now has to hear me drone on about it at parties whenever someone asks a question like yours.

TPQ: Any author or book you point blank refuse to read?

DF: The ones by the whole crowd at Fox News – Hannity, O’Reilly, Carlson, Ingraham, Dobbs. All of them. I can’t even see their work on a table at a bookstore without experiencing a visceral urge to sweep them onto the floor.

TPQ: A book to share with somebody so that they would more fully understand you?

DF: Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby. Yes, that’s me whenever I become obsessed with my great passion for college basketball, specifically as it’s played by the North Carolina Tar Heels. Whenever I look like I’m deep in thought, or contemplating some great existential question, I’m probably actually re-living the final seconds of an agonizing loss to Duke, or basking in the glow of the final seconds of the 2017 title game against Gonzaga. Because, yes, I am a shallow and simple-minded male who lets far too many of his moods be determined by the fortunes of a team that I have no control over. And Hornby recognizes that for so many of us who are similarly afflicted, no matter how intelligent, that this passion will always have the power to pulp our brain to the consistency of banana pudding.

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

DF: Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu. Sent a copy to my son in Montana. Fresh and original and funny, yet also very moving.

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

DF: The one I just started writing. Partly because I like the idea of turning a Stasi foreign intelligence guy, who is about to get his last paycheck in 1990, into a noir antihero who I think would be fun to portray on the screen. Partly because it would be fun to see someone else’s vision of something I created. Otherwise? Maybe Polar Star, which was one of Martin Cruz Smith’s early Arkady Renko novels. I’d love to see that strange world aboard a fish factory ship translated to the screen.

TPQ: A "must read" you intend getting to before you die?

DF: I was on the verge of saying The Charterhouse of Parma, because I heard someone raving about it recently, and have always been charmed by the Old World gravity of its title. But frankly my ‘must read’ list is always going to consist of whatever new release is due out next from one of my favorite authors. Those are always the books I desire the most.

 Dan Fesperman is a US author based in Baltimore. His latest book is Safe Houses. For more about his works see danfesperman.com

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed this as a great rattle through what is obviously an extensive library and incurable reading addiction, though why would anyone want cured?. We have Vonnegut, Le Carre, Atkinson and Mantel in common

    ReplyDelete