Interview: My Reading Life (with Eric Garcia)
What are five books you loved? For one of them, why did you love it?
In no particular order:
1) Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
2) Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
3) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
4) North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Balingrud
5) UBIK by Philip Dick
There are many reasons why I loved these books (and the many more I couldn't add to the list, since I could only choose five), but if we're picking one somewhat common theme it's a type of regulatory fantasy -- which is to say a world (or worlds) that exist outside of our own, or just in the boundaries of our own -- but with some sense of rules. I don't personally need to know all the rules, but just that they exist, somewhere. Ragtime might only barely seem to fit into this, as it's more historical fiction than anything, but as you get more into the book, there are elements of fate and gordian-knot, American Exceptionalism, and a potentially psychic child placed in there in key moments. It's a beautiful weaving of our painful history, our potential future, and everything that brought (or will bring) us there.
What is a book you didn’t like, and why?
Oh gosh, this is harder. I usually find something to love in most books. I have to admit that I wasn't a fan of Ready Player One. I'm certainly the right age for it, as I'm a child of the 80s, and far be it from me to critize a wildly popular novel -- but it just didn't grab me. I mostly found myself not particularly caring. Finished it, just for completists' sake, but I wasn't grabbed the way others seemed to have been.
What is a funny/interesting/unique anecdote about you as a reader?
I don't know if it's all that funny, but many years ago, I realized that despite having been an English major and having read voraciously all my life, I'd never read War and Peace. At the same time, I didn't really feel like thunking it down on my nightstand -- no way I'd get through more than a page in the evening without falling asleep. So I installed it next to the toilet and over the next...wow, at least a year, I'd say, I read through the entire thing while taking care of business. Like I said, don't know if it's all that funny, but it's true.
How did you first fall in love with books?
I'm an only child. 'Nuff said.
Well, okay, maybe a bit more -- primarily that my parents definitely read to me constantly, and soon I was taking it up myself. We went on a lot of trips when I was a kid, and being an only child, I was relegated to the back seat -- and rather than watch the scenery go by, I buried myself in whatever books I brought or found on the trip. Man, we'd go through every English-language bookshop or section we could find, no matter the country, just to feed my habit.
What book or books are you planning to read soon?
I've been reading a lot for work recently, and so there are a bunch of different nonfiction books currently waiting on my Kindle/iPad. One about AI/EAs, one about identity theft, one just called How To Disappear -- don't worry, I'm not going anywhere.
What book do you always recommend?
It really depends on the person and their interests. I sometimes throw Geek Love by Katherine Dunn at them, just to see where they lie on the spectrum, and go from there.
What book/books changed the way you see the world and your place in it?
You know, when I was relatively young, I read The World According To Garp, and while it was a pretty singular tone -- and a strange one, perhaps, for a teenager to read -- something about it definitely woke up the writer in me. Maybe it was the setting or Garp's profession or just the power of John Irving's words, but it struck a chord with me and set me on a path.
What was your favorite childhood book?
Easy one: The Hobbit.
Have you ever read anything that made you think differently about fiction/nonfiction?
I've been playing with structure a lot recently -- in film/tv primarily, but started to explore it more in prose -- and books like The House of Blue Leaves are obviously at the forefront of that.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I wouldn't say they're underappreciated because they were all massive bestsellers, but I think the general public doesn't give Stephen King enough credit for the fanastic characterization he does in his books. We wouldn't care nearly as much about the plots or the scares if we didn't care deeply for the people he creates.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I was never a big Hemingway fan until I got a bit older. I always went for the flourish first, and I was drawn to Faulkner early on -- but as I matured, I found that the economy of style (and his themes) started to speak to me a bit more.
What book have you read that has most influenced your life?
I'd probably go back to Slaughterhouse Five for this one, if only because it -- and Vonnegut in general -- woke me up to tone and voice in a way that prior books had not. I was probably ten or eleven at the time (a bit early to be reading it, but so it goes), and it definitely made an impact.
Who are your favorite writers?
Of the classic-to-mid-20th century: Kafka, Steinbeck, Orwell
Modern(ish): Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, Elmore Leonard, Simon Rich, T.C. Boyle
What do you read on holiday?
Oh, Elmore Leonard, definitely. Carl Hiaasen. Simon Rich. Mostly fun, darkly comedic stuff.
Which author (living or dead) do you think is most underrated?
As discussed before, Stephen King -- seen as populist fluff (which it can be) but it's got some fantastic foundation and chops --
Oh, and Walter Tevis. I mean, all the man did was write The Hustler, The Color of Money, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and The Queen’s Gambit. And outside of a few small circles, nobody knows his name. I mean, c'mon...
What is your favorite book published in the past twelve months?
The Vanishing Half was pretty damned great.
Did your parents read to you when you were young?
Oh yes, quite constantly.
Which book have you given most frequently as a gift to others?
Other than the Oh the Places You'll Go which seems to be a you-must-give-it-to-all-college grads, and How to Cook Everything, which I love giving to people moving out on their own the first time, I think I've probably gifted Geek Love more than anything else.
Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
Hmmm... Arya Stark? I'd really love to know how that list is coming along. I have a feeling (TV series notwithstanding) we may never know.
Where do you buy your books?
Primarily either online or, if I happen to be wandering around town, in whatever small bookshop I stop into. If it's online, it's usually for a targeted reason, and I get it in Kindle format; if it's in person, it's just kind of puttering around and looking at things until I find something that catches my eye. In NYC, I like The Strand. I don't end up in the large chains anymore, to the degree that there are large chains...
Do you prefer physical books or ebooks?
I've become an ebook person -- I like having a massive library on my iPad, and it means I can read in bed at night without having to hold the book, flip pages, etc. I know that's anathema to some, but I've found that it works well for me.
Every reader has a stack of favorites. What books would you grab if the house was on fire and you had to run out?
Haha, no need -- I'd just grab my iPad!
What impact can a book have on the reader?
Books, to me, are potentially the most immersive form of media. I say that as a writer of a bunch of different forms -- prose, film, television, and theatre -- because I'm aware that while books are simply printed words on a page/screen, they activate the imagination in a way that takes you out of the world in which you're actually living and transports you, if only for a time, to another place. I've seen a lot of immersive theatre, but even that has a fourth wall that's hard to break. Books get right inside your head, and that's hard to beat.
End of Interview
Eric Garcia is a screenwriter, novelist, and producer whose books have been published in 22 countries and translated into 15 languages, and he has been behind such books and films as the Ridley Scott-directed Matchstick Men starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell; The Repossession Mambo and its film adaptation Repo Men directed by Miguel Sapochnik; and the cult hit Anonymous Rex series. He produced the award-winning horror film The Autopsy of Jane Doe starring Brian Cox and directed by Andre Øvredal, and was the writer and executive producer of Strange But True, starring Amy Ryan, Nick Robinson, and Margaret Qualley. In TV, he is the creator and showrunner behind the upcoming Netflix series Jigsaw (2022). He also created and ran Cassandra French’s Finishing School, based on his novel, for DirecTV/Fullscreen in 2018. For the stage, he is the book writer and lyricist for The Bad News Bears, a forthcoming musical adaptation based on the beloved 1976 film classic. Born in Miami and educated at Cornell University and the University of Southern California, he lives in Camarillo, California with his wife Sabrina, his children Bailey and Teddy, and more pets than are probably necessary.