When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I’m a writer.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
Reading Doctor Seuss books at my local library when I was maybe four (?) years old. I have very clear memories of walking to the library with my parents and then sitting in the children’s section, mesmerized by Seuss’ visuals. I’m still mesmerized by him today! I also remember reading comic books. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading comics. They just seemed to magically appear in my life—I have no idea who gave me my first one—and I’ve been hooked ever since.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be and why?
It’s impossible for me to pick just one. When I think of great books for children, I think of Seuss, Baum’s amazing Oz books, the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers, Roald Dahl, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, the Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle and so many more stories that crack open the imagination and sense of wonder. I think a wide-open imagination and functioning sense of wonder are absolutely essential to life, no matter your age.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Before I was making my living as a writer, I was a working musician, playing in bands in the New York area. But, every once in a while, to supplement my income, I’d answer some ad in the NY Times—“Jobs in publishing!”—and take a temp job. The worst of them was for a company that put out a variety of magazines with many subscribers. (Keep in mind this was in the days before personal computers revolutionized everything.) My gig was going through their subscription lists—multiple lists, each with hundreds, maybe thousands, of subscribers—and looking for duplicate names. So if I saw “Joe Smith” on page one and came across him again on page 1001, I’d have to double back and cross out the first one. Did this for an entire week till my brain started melting. Can you imagine?
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I go through periods where I read voraciously, then periods where I don’t read enough (and feel guilty about it). Right now I’m in a voracious period.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path and why?
There are so many books on writing out there and, honestly, I don’t know how valuable they are. One great one that comes to mind is If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland, which is a book that both an aspiring writer and an old pro can find value in. Ueland was a writing teacher who saw the artist in everyone and—in a simple, profound, poetic fashion—If You Want To Write inspires in a way few other books on the craft do.
That said, I think the most important thing for a writer to do is to read great books. That, for me, is the real inspiration. For instance: I can’t read a Ray Bradbury book without wanting to run to the computer and start writing. He never fails to light my creative soul on fire.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
There are a number of books I’ve read multiple times: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, the great Hindu epic The Ramayana, Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, Ubik by Phillip K. Dick, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, numerous books by and about the spiritual master Avatar Meher Baba. Why? One simple reason: They inspire me and nurture my soul.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
It really depends on the friend and what their heart is hungering for.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
I love fantasy novels that have a core of reality to them and (so-caled) realistic fiction that peels back the skin of the world and let’s you see the magic at the heart of it. Different approaches to the same goal.
I’m also a Beatles fanatic and have read way too many books about them, especially John Lennon. Same with Orson Welles: I must have a dozen Welles-related books on my shelf.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Bradbury, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Salinger, Philip K Dick…to name a few.
I also have to acknowledge the great comic book creators who have inspired me: people like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Gerber, Will Eisner, my friend and mentor Len Wein and so many more. Comics have been a huge part of my life, personally and professionally, and these creators have left permanent imprints on my soul. Talk about cracking open the sense of wonder—!
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I’ve only recently started reading, and very much enjoying, digital books—I resisted them for a long time—but I can absolutely see a day when that’s the norm. The generation that’s growing up in a digital universe is not going to have the same attachment to physical books that the rest of us do. But, for me, there’s a real magic in a physical book: in holding it in my hands, the scent of the pages, the joy of looking at my library and seeing all the books gathered there like old and dear friends. Plus, I love to read in the bathtub and there’s no way I’m taking my iPad into the tub with me!
What book do you feel humanity needs right now?
Avatar Meher Baba once said “The book that I shall make people read is the book of the heart, which holds the key to the mystery of life.” So I think the most valuable book is one that turns the gaze inward so the reader can discover their own Book of the Heart—and that will be different for different people.
Life At Its Best by Avatar Meher Baba. Not so much because of the words on the page but because reading it unlocked something profound, and life-changing, inside me and set me on my spiritual path.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
One book that springs to mind is Lost Horizon by James Hilton. I don’t know if it’s a “great book” in the classic literary sense but I absolutely adore it. Every time I read it, it sweeps me off into the Shangri-La of my own soul.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I don’t have a big master plan, but the next couple of books in the queue are The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman and Bleak House by Charles Dickens. (I’ve been on a Dickens binge lately, having recently read Nicholas Nickleby for the first time and David Copperfield for the third.)
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I wrote a graphic novel about growing up crazy and dysfunctional, searching for God and meaning, in Brooklyn, called Brooklyn Dreams. Although that only dealt with one part of my life, I think I’d use that title for a full-blown autobiography.