In this edition of our Questionnaire for Writer Types, we talk to Benjamin Hale, the author of the novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, about a very special chimpanzee. Hale lives in New York, and reads from his book on Monday night, at the Franklin Park Reading Series‘s special second-anniversary reading.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
Every time a reviewer compares me to Nabokov or Saul Bellow my heart melts a little with pleasure. Also, one of my favorite things a reviewer has said was in Ron Charles’ review in the Washington Post. He wrote, “ ‘The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore’ is a brilliant, unruly brute of a book—the kind of thing Richard Powers might write while pumped up on laughing gas.” I’ll be perfectly happy if my tombstone reads, “He wrote like Richard Powers on laughing gas.”
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
Well, I just ate a pretty good burger in Naperville, IL, which is where I’m typing from, though I don’t know if that’s going to change anyone’s life but mine. I’m teaching a craft class on first-person novels in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College right now, so most of my current reading is re-reading the books I chose for the curriculum. It’s basically a class in These Are a Few of My Favorite Books. We just finished Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum—I’m astounded by that book every time I read it, which is more than a few times at this point—and now we’re onto Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. That’s a book that’s so blazingly funny and exuberant, reading it truly puts me in a great mood. It’s a book that makes me want to write.
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 actually have been meaning to read Jay-Z’s memoir lately. Kanye West should write one. I would also like to use this interview to officially, publicly dare John Edwards to write a memoir.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Yes, there was a dark, dark time when I was working a night shift at a bakery, and about 80% of my meager paycheck would go straight into rent. I subsisted mostly off of food I stole from work. Also, I never got enough sleep. I lost a lot of weight and was sick a lot. It was a pretty miserable time. But after I was done with it, I felt like I’d fought with the Balrog, and I came back in robes of gleaming white.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
I recently saw a woman reading my book on the subway. She was laughing to herself as she read. It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. I didn’t bother her. It gave me a feeling of such pleasure and pride I felt slightly high for days. Like I was on laughing gas.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Oh God, yes. Do not ever, ever decide to G-chat with an ex-girlfriend while you are drunk.