My Reading Life: with Kenny Miles
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson, Under Tiberius by Nick Tosches, The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, and Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan.
Nine Stories begins with “Bananafish”, or “A perfect day for Bananafish”. This short story is the reason I love J.D. Salinger. Every time I read it, I am struck by how well he understood the inability of adults to communicate with one another. Their perspectives have been distorted by war, indifference, selfishness etc. making it nearly impossible to hear or be heard. The main character, Seymour, finds an odd comfort in conversations with a young girl on the beach, because she still has the childlike innocence that allows for empathy and wonder to lead, rather than judgement or worry. I love short works of art that capture the inescapable terror and sheer bliss of existence.
What is a book you didn’t like, and why?
I read Atlas Shrugged when I had just graduated from high school, and it felt like it could’ve been written by an outdated machine.
What is a funny/interesting/unique anecdote about you as a reader?
While I enjoy the act of reading a great deal, it ends up being a tool for inspiration more often than not. I also see it as imaginal exercise, a way to work my imagination when I’m not able to do that on my own.
How did you first fall in love with books?
Thankfully, I’ve always felt at home around books. My mom taught me to read early on, and reading along with her helped improve my comprehension. I don’t think I realized I loved books until I noticed most of my friends in fifth grade weren’t reading in their spare time.
What book or books are you planning to read soon?
A friend just loaned me The Mothman Prophecies and Our Haunted Planet by John Keel.
What book do you always recommend?
The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry by Stephen Mitchell.
What book/books changed the way you see the world and your place in it?
Many have, but most recently, Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society by Peter McWilliams really changed the way I thought about law and its relationship to human life.
What was your favorite childhood book?
When I was in the fourth grade I read Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park. It’s a novella about a thirteen year old girl who’s brother is killed while riding his bike. It was the first time I can remember that I was moved to tears by a book. Looking back, I can see how formative it was to what has been a lifelong inner monologue about the inevitable loss attached to love.
Do you have any favorite literary journals?
Not really, but I would love to hear suggestions. I subscribed to the New Yorker for many years, and I was introduced to a lot of writers that I still read a lot, Robert Coover is probably the one I’m the most grateful to have found there. I eventually cancelled my subscription because I rarely finished one before the new issue came.
Have you ever read anything that made you think differently about fiction/nonfiction?
Reading Hunter Thompson let me see how blurry the line between fiction and non-fiction can be. I can see how this is a strange thing to say when today, the only “news” many people read is propaganda. Somehow HST got to the heart of issues through a sort of exaggeration that ended with me seeing the truth more clearly.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I struggled with Philip K. Dick for a while. Like some of my favorite music, I tried it too early and didn’t have enough context to surrender to it. It was only after I read Valis many years later that I dug in to his writing.
What book have you read that has most influenced your life?
Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching.
Who are your favorite writers?
Bob Dylan, Nick Tosches, Rainer Marie Rilke, J.D. Salinger, Marge Piercy, Anthony Burgess, Robert Coover.
What do you read on holiday?
The Bosch Series by Michael Connely. I usually read a Stephen King book between Christmas and New Years.
Which author (living or dead) do you think is most underrated?
I know he’s well known, but I don’t hear many people talk about Anthony Burgess. I’ve also heard people criticize him for being self-indulgent, and I can understand why, but it never bothered me. He had a mastery of language that I am always impressed by.
Which author (living or dead) do you think is most overrated?
Shakespeare. This is sort of a joke.
What is your favorite book published in the past twelve months?
High Weirdness by Erik Davis
Did your parents read to you when you were young?
My Mom read to me a lot. It ranged from Heman Masters of the Universe to Shel Silverstein to Harold and His Purple Crayon. Dr. Suess was a staple. She has always had a very warm and humane outlook on the world and was drawn to books that were informed by that perspective. She influenced my curiosity more than anyone else I think.
Which book have you given most frequently as a gift to others?
The Island by Aldous Huxley
Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
Kenneth Toomey from Earthly Powers. I think he could, and would be glad to answer my most pressing questions about life. That’s not to say I would agree with his answers, but I would like to have a chance to glean some of his wisdom.
Where do you buy your books?
Most of my collection came from Half Priced Books.
Do you prefer physical books or ebooks?
Physical books, although I have read pdf versions of some harder to find or more expensive books, it is not my preferred reading method. I like to write in the margins and underline a lot.
Every reader has a stack of favorites. What books would you grab if the house was on fire and you had to run out?
The Enlightened Heart, Nine Stories, World’s End by Neruda, the Tao, and A Pattern Language.
What impact can a book have on the reader?
Any creation has the potential to change someones life on a molecular level if the reader/listener/viewer comes to it with an open heart and mind. One of the great pleasures of my life so far has been subjecting myself to a revolving door of influence in order to cultivate consciousness, as well as to remind myself I will never know as much as I want to know. I work to increase my appetite for knowledge that creates change within me. I read to be inspired to create, which is the only thing I think any of us were ever really meant to do.
End of Interview
Kenny Miles is a songwriter, producer and audio engineer from Whitesburg, KY. He and his brother are both members of the band Wayne Graham. You can order their most recent work here or check them out on your favorite streaming platform.