Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
Like most people, I hope: rope hammock, dappled sunlight, snapping palm trees. The big caveat is that my iPhone needs to be dead, or secured in a safe of some kind, so that when I reach for it every five minutes, robotically, pathetically, like a phantom limb, it won’t be there to hijack it. . me.
What is your favorite book that no one else has heard of?
My mother is from Melbourne, so I grew up reading certain Australian books that no one in the US had ever heard of. One that made a strong impression was Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding, which was published in 1918 and is about a koala named Bunyip Bluegum, who has adventures with a sailor and a penguin and a fourth character who is a bowl of pudding. with arms and legs. Whenever the other characters are hungry, they eat the pudding (he has no problem with this, he loves to be eaten) and when they are done, any portion of the pudding that was consumed is magically reconstituted. The unflattering truth is that many of my favorite stories involve the endless replenishment of food. “Strega Nona” was another touchstone growing up, one that I loved sharing with my own children. The same goes for the movie “Big Night.”
Which writers (novelists, playwrights, journalists, critics, poets) working today do you most admire?
One surreal thing about writing for The New Yorker is that some of the writers I admire most are my colleagues: people like Rachel Aviv or Larissa MacFarquhar. In our old building, in Times Square, I could just walk into the next office and ask David Grann, one of the great nonfiction writers working today, for his advice on how to handle a narrative problem. It is not lost on me how exaggerated the privilege is to have Marshall McLuhan right here. But there are so many other writers whose work I envy and learn from: Robert Caro, Isabel Wilkerson, Lauren Redniss, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Michael Lewis, Clint Smith, Jennifer Egan, the late John le Carré, Colson Whitehead, Katie Kitamura, the playwright. Jez Butterworth, podcaster Dan Taberski. The Coens brothers. Michaela Coell. The people who write “Succession”. The people who wrote “Veep.”
What do you read when you are working on a book? And what kind of reading do you avoid while writing?
I have a major problem which is that all reading becomes fodder for work. In college I studied with Simon Schama, and I remember him talking about “ripping” a book, ripping it apart quickly, and extracting what you need. Because I have a tendency to do this, and because I read a lot for work, I can sometimes forget to read for pleasure and relaxation. But when I’m actually working on a project, I become obsessive and any outside reading feels superfluous.