Ben Dolnick, who lives in Fort Greene with his wife, is the author of the novels Zoology and You Know Who You Are, the latter of which goes on sale today. He reads at Greenlight Bookstore this Thursday evening.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
I do my best not to keep a mental database of things that people have said about my work, so this is a little tough.
For Christmas one year my uncle got me a session with a handwriting-analyst, and she said that my writing—in particular the largeness of my signature relative to the smallness of my ordinary script—showed that I’m an extrovert who pretends to be an introvert. I’m fairly sure this is not an accurate statement about me, but it is undoubtedly true that I’ve got weirdly cramped handwriting.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
The crispy watercress salad at Sri Pra Phai in Queens. The watercress is battered and deep-fried, and the whole thing is tossed in a dressing so flavorful—lime juice, fish sauce, mint, cilantro—that it made me laugh out loud the first time I tried it.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all (or novel) would you sprint to the store to buy (along with a copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius so that the checkout clerk doesn’t look at you screwy)?
I’d be very interested to read another volume of Charles Barkley’s memoirs (I know I’ve got a couple to catch up on already; I haven’t read one since Outrageous, which was one of the seminal books of my childhood). I don’t think there’s any human being I enjoy watching on TV as much as I do him.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I do tend to get ferociously hungry at about 2:30 most afternoons, but it doesn’t make me brilliant (though that may be because I usually extinguish the hunger with chocolate chips and peanut butter before it has time to work its way to my brain).
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
I think writing something and then having that thing read by an attentive stranger on an airplane or couch or whatever is a plenty ideal interaction in its own right.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
With just about everything I write, including emails and text messages, I go through a period of wishing I could take it back, but it usually passes, and then I try not to think about it anymore.
There’s a story that Tolstoy, when he was an old man, pulled a book off the shelf and flipped it open and read a paragraph or two and thought, “This is pretty good, I wonder who wrote it?” He checked the spine and it turned out to be by him. That seems to me about the best imaginable relationship a writer could have with his own previously written stuff.