Dan Barden is the author of John Wayne: A Novel and The Next Right Thing (March 6, 2012; The Dial Press), which Jonathan Letham described as "The Long Goodbye in rehab." Barden, a native of Southern California, teaches creative writing at Butler University in Indianapolis. His essays have appeared in Esquire, GQ, Details and Poets and Writers.
On your nightstand now:
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and Orange Sunshine by Nicholas Schou. Lahiri makes such gorgeous paragraphs. Who else can you say that about? The subtitle of Schou's book is The Brotherhood of Eternal Love and Its Quest to Spread Peace, Love, and Acid to the World. I think I'm reading this one to research my next novel, but I'm also falling in love with these hippie-thugs from the Laguna Beach of the '60s and '70s.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Don't tell my mom, but the only books I can remember loving as a child were the Collier's Encyclopedias. I spent years reading them and almost nothing else.
Your top five authors:
Walker Percy, Richard Rodriguez, Jennifer Egan, Raymond Chandler and Robert B. Parker.
Book you've faked reading:
There was a time in my life when I wanted everyone to believe I had Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man committed to memory. He was a Jesuit philosopher/paleontologist and this fit in with my aspiration to be mistaken for an intellectual. The fact is that I had memorized sentences but hadn't read much else.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. I give it to smart guys who say they don't read novels. Also, for the same reason, Charlie Huston's Caught Stealing and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.
Book you've bought for the cover:
Theories of Authorship by John Caughie because it had a great picture on the cover of the film director John Ford telling John Wayne what to do. I never read a word.
Book that changed your life:
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. My high school guidance counselor sent it home with me as a gift for my mom, who was a friend of his. I still have that copy with his inscription to my mom. She's never seen it. It felt like Percy was reading my mail. I wanted to make a book just like his.
Favorite line from a book:
"A good father is not a good father." --from Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Jamesland by Michelle Huneven. I was angry when I finished reading it because I recognized that I would never get to read it for the first time again. I cursed. I would have thrown the book if I hadn't been on an airplane at the time. A novel about people I would recognize if I saw them on the street, characters who are as dear to me as friends.