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Teen reads, travel and lying about Trollope

Q&A | 4 minute read
Mark Kamine on his writing life

Where do you write?

When I’m home in New York, at the dining room table, and when I’m traveling for work – I line produce movies and can go away for six or so months at a time – in whatever hotel room or apartment I’m staying at, so in the past year in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, on a kitchen table and on a side table pushed up against a wall near a plug.

What’s the last really good book you read? And the best film or theatre production?

I just finished two books that I loved – Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, very funny and sexy, kind of the flip-side to her sliver of memoir from a few years before, Things I Don’t Want to Know, which had a partial Spanish setting (too) and was less funny but fascinating and instructive – and All the President’s Men, which I read as background for a review of two books on reporting for the TLS. It’s immersive, refreshingly humble and gracious, and in the current context, unfortunately, unbelievably apt.

Oklahoma! was a great theatre experience, and we didn’t even eat the cornbread and chilli they were serving on stage at intermission. Ford v. Ferrari was thoroughly enjoyable. I also re-watched The French Connection, Bullitt and Get Carter (the Michael Caine one), because I seem to be working on those kinds of movies these days, and found them effectively minimal in plotting, a lesson that the current spate of action movies & thrillers could learn.

What book marked you as a child or teenager?

I went through a middle school period of fantasy, science fiction and Herman Hesse, which got me reading heavily and steadily and with a lot of excitement, and then, apologies to sci-fi and Hesse fans, I entered into my more serious reading life by going through the Modern Library books on the living room bookshelf. Dostoevsky, Babel, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe. I know I read Faulkner (Sound and Fury), Woolf (To the Lighthouse), Proust (Swann’s Way) and Joyce (Ulysses) in high school with about as much understanding as if I’d been reading something in a language I didn’t know.

What book inspired you to become a writer?

I can’t say a single book did it. More the experience and feeling (engagement, passion, joy, relief) that reading provided.

Pen and paper or laptop?


Do you re-read books or is life too short?

I agree with the person who, when asked if he read novels, said, ‘I read all six of them every year’, meaning Jane Austen, though I usually only get to one of them each summer. I have read Ulysses 2.5 times since that first premature effort, with increasing understanding.

Who is the best fictional hero and villain?

Prince Andrei in War & Peace and Satan in Paradise Lost. I’m pretty conventional there.

When did you last visit your local library?

Probably three or four years ago. I used to rely on libraries. I would go to the fiction shelf at the main library in Wayne, New Jersey, and try pretty much anything. And then libraries at university in a more focused way, and when I first moved to New York in my twenties the public libraries, the circulating one on 5th Ave across from the main library, the beautiful central branch of the Brooklyn library when I lived there. I have a little more money and a little less free time these days.

What classic have you lied about reading?

I’m more the lie by omission type (say nothing, look knowing), but at one time or another probably all of them, starting with works by those English lit major favourites, the Victorian novelists, which, except for the standard Dickens ones, I got to fairly late and in a pretty patchy way. If you ask me about any Trollope novel and I act like I know what you’re talking about, I’m lying.

Finally, what’s the elevator pitch for your new book?

Right wing movements, real estate operators. Showman in the White House, ethics out the window. Coming of age in the 1980s.

Not So Fast by Mark Kamine will be published by Unbound on 23 January 2020.

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