For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, what’s the most accurate thing someone else has said about it?
I suppose Alain de Boton’s sympathetic description: that I sought (and sometimes managed) to see worlds in a grain of sand. With the alarming proviso that, as the years roll by, such an author must be ever more desperately seeking grains of sand to see worlds in.
What have you read/watched/listened to/looked at/ate recently that will permanently change our readers' lives for the better?
Franklin Zimring's book on New York, The City That Became Safe, tells more about cops and policing and the crime decline of the past twenty years in the city than any other book I know. It is something that every New Yorker should read, both for its optimistic account of how the seemingly impossible happened, and for its reaffirmation of ameliorative liberalism: the world only gets better bit by bit, and small steps can make for big leaps.
The Roundabout Theater’s current production of The Road To Mecca supplies one of the few perfect performances, this one by Rosemary Harris as an artist inspired beyond her own understanding, that I’ve ever seen on stage.
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)?
Well, I did sprint to the store to buy Keith Richards’s autobiography Life, as a long term Stones fan who still begins each day. Though the stuff about drugs was surprisingly dull—other people’s intoxication is interesting only to other people—the stuff about music was sensational. His analysis of why open-G tuning has the force it has, and how it relates to folk music (its drone) and classical is pretty amazing. (Though there are those who suggest that Open-G tuning is the interesting thing about the drug addiction, since it means it takes one left hand finger, barring five strings, to be able to play the chords, in any shape.)
Have you ever been a Starving Artist, and did it make you brilliant, or just hungry?
Not quite starving, but certainly nervous. For the first year of our life in New York, I lunched, and frequently dined, every day at the Papaya King on Third Avenue and 86th St. “Tastier Than Filet Mignon.” I now point it out to the children.
What would you characterize as an ideal interaction with a reader?
Well, obviously, infatuation followed by well-written fan letter followed by a mass order of books, one for every relative, at a good independent bookstore. Short of that, the best is the semi-annual subway encounter, occurred when grasping a common pole. "Are you —-? Oh, I read your book. I liked it." And then at 23rd Street, she (or he, but usually she, the reading of books having become ever more gender-specific) gets off, leaving a nice if not hyperbolic feeling behind. The 6 train is both a leveler and a calming influence. No one ever over-praised an author on the subway.
Have you ever written anything that you'd like to take back?
Yes, every third sentence. Of course, every second sentence I’d like to see chiseled in marble. The sentence between, I suppose, is merely filling space, like a Styrofoam chip.
Generally, I always regret moments of punditry, however large the subject and however passionately felt the vie, and never regret moments of passion, however small the subject, and however lacking in punditry the surface may seem.