Right now I'm reading a novel called The Big Why by Michael Winter, who is a Canadian author. In this book he tackles one of my favorite themes in all of literature: People all alone in a very, very cold climate getting very bad ideas. It's about Rockwell Kent, the early 20th-century illustrator. There are quite a lot of people in the book who go off wandering late at night in the cold and then wish they'd brought a torch and warmer clothing.
I just finished a novel called The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian, which is somewhat post-apocalyptic in nature. It's about an enormous flood. It takes place inside a children's hospital which is surrounded by miles of water. I didn't mean to read it around the anniversary of the New Orleans flood, but that's when I ended up reading it. It's a science-fiction premise, but it's largely an emotional book.
Tom Drury has a new novel. One of my favorite novels on earth is his second novel, The Black Brook. I just read his fourth novel, which is called The Driftless Area. It is a noir, which is surprising. It is also full of deadpan comedy. It's about a young man who is a bartender in a rather isolated community in the Midwest and he stumbles upon an evil plot involving a suitcase full of money and a mysterious fire and a femme fatale. I really liked it.
I really like the author Meg Rosoff, who had a book called The Way We Live Now about a strange war in England. Some children find themselves alone in a house, running out of food – in very desperate circumstances. I like children's books with desperate circumstances.
I have a child of picture-book age. He likes a book called Scaredy Squirrel [by Melanie Watt], about a squirrel who never wants to leave his tree. Part of the book talks about the disadvantages of never leaving the tree, and one of the disadvantages is "same old nuts, same old place," which my 3-year-old son has taken to be his personal motto. So, when he arrives at school in the morning, he says, "same old nuts, same old place."
... Listening to?
In general, I listen to a lot of gloomy Russian classical music and a lot of music by Sun Ra, the experimental jazz musician. I've been listening to a new chamber piece that a friend recommended to me by [Russian composer] György Ligeti called "Six Bagatelles for Wind Quartet." I listen to a lot of Morton Feldman, too. He was an American composer who made very, very quiet, very slow music. It's a nice thing to listen to while one is working. I have been really interested in this piece by Messiaen, the modernist composer who has a piece called "Quartet for the End of Time."
The band Memphis are Canadian. I'll listen to their song "I'll Do Whatever You Want" over and over again. I would describe them as melancholy pop, I guess.
I friend gave me a bunch of episodes of Law & Order. He said they were the perfect thing to watch late at night during a 3 a.m. feeding of the baby because they're engaging enough that you don't fall asleep, but they're not so interesting that you can't just turn them right off. I got quite addicted to them, so we started to rent whole seasons of "Law & Order" and watch them. That's really the only TV that I ended up watching, so I felt that I wasn't watching proper TV. There's some cable channel that's practically showing "Law & Order" all the time. Whenever I'm on book tour and sitting in my hotel, I have to find it: "Where's the 'Law & Order' channel?" Everything else seems to be reality TV or sexist sitcoms.
My sister was living in France for a while with an Israeli couple, and they were really into Nip/Tuck. So we'd stay up really late watching episodes of "Nip/Tuck" and listen to the Israeli's explain the psychological underpinnings of everything. So that was fun, but that was more of a camp appreciation. There's absolutely no motivation going on at any time, so the characters can fall in love, kill one another, betray one another – it's as if the whole thing has been improvised. The Israelis were convinced that the whole thing was about American imperialism but, you know, it was late at night!
I saw a movie called Brick. I would describe it as a noir set in a high school. I just loved that they took the two genres of noir and high school and car-crashed them rather elegantly together. I thought the dialogue was all very nice. I saw it in a theater in London and I was sitting near high school students. When the end credits were playing and [the music was] The Velvet Underground's Sister Ray, I heard all the high school students say, "oh yeah, I heard something about this song. I like this song. Maybe I should buy that record." I felt so privileged to be around for the moment when a generation was first hearing The Velvet Underground.
• Lemony Snicket's 'The End' is now in bookstores. Read a review of it in today's edition.