Touchstone releases John Kenney’s debut novel Truth in Advertising today; his 17 years in writing copy for New York ad firms informs the book’s story of a middle-aged Bostonian working on Madison Avenue and reevaluating his life. Tomorrow, he reads from the book at Greenlight, then discusses it with Jami Attenberg (The Middlesteins).
What neighborhood do you live in?
I live in Brooklyn Heights. I’ve lived there since 1998. I came over to visit a friend who lived in Cobble Hill. I was living on the Upper West Side at the time in an apartment I couldn’t really afford. My wife and I have two children and apartment living can be challenging. We’ve looked in Westchester and New Jersey and, as lovely as those places are, we always come back after those trips and realize how much we love Brooklyn.
For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
“Was English that guy’s first language” is probably the most accurate thing. That’s a lie. My hope would be that people say it’s funny.
What have you read (or seen or heard or tasted or etc.) recently that will permanently change our readers’ lives for the better?
In no particular order: The scones at Tea & Sympathy, Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach Concerto for solo cello, the new season of Portlandia and the upcoming new episodes of Arrested Development, and Dexter Filkins’s piece in The New Yorker about a United States Marine who is ultimately forgiven by the wife of an Iraqi family he shot and killed.
Whose ghostwritten celebrity tell-all 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)?
Pema Chodron. I’m convinced those Buddhist monks who’ve achieved enlightenment have some secrets.
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
I was a late bloomer. Very late. I was working at a coffee shop at 26 and caddying on weekends. I still have my last pay stub from the coffee shop job in my wallet. $132 a week. I returned cans to buy a newspaper. Very tough times. It didn’t make me brilliant. But it made me humble.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
They miss their stop on the subway because they’re so engaged.
Have you ever written anything that you’d like to take back?
Absolutely. There are some humor pieces I wish I had another swing at. And quite possibly some of my answers here, as I’m typing as fast as I can with two screaming children three feet away from me.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart