Reading with... Mark Gottlieb
Mark Gottliebis a literary agent at Trident Media Group in New York City, helping writers realize their publishing dreams. While at Trident Media Group, Gottlieb represented bestselling and award-winning authors, and has sold books to film and TV companies. Before becoming a literary agent, Gottlieb ran Trident Media Group's audio department and worked in foreign rights. He maintains a blog about all things publishing here.
On your nightstand now:
My nightstand is an ambitious place, containing a pile of books I hope to read for pleasure and will soon. Aside from reading the manuscripts of the authors I work with, I have Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, Frank Herbert's Dune (reading again in time for the movie/TV show), Michael DeForge's Leaving Richard's Valley, Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching and Nick Drnaso's Sabrina. There are a lot of books I would like to add to the stack at the risk of it beginning to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Diana Engel's The Little Lump of Clay is a real tearjerker. The book is about a tiny ball of clay no one pays any attention to at the bottom of a bin of clay. One day a little boy picks it up and makes it into a tiny teacup. For the first time in the little clay's life, it feels self-worth. I still have my copy somewhere. It is strange to think that my favorite childhood book has gone out of print, but things could change.
Your top five authors:
This is a tough one... so many great authors out there, including the authors I have worked with over the years. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Kurt Vonnegut for his wit and economy of language; Tom Robbins for his profound absurdity and the proof in his wild prose that reviewers were right to call him a "verbal break dancer"; Hunter S. Thompson for his deep dive into the truth of American politics and the heart of the American dream; Edith Wharton for her keen insights into the upper echelons of society, much of which still hold true today; and Charles Burns for his amazing artwork and the way he portrayed the darker side of society in his exploration of how society treats the ill.
Book you've faked reading:
Let me preface this by saying that the books of John Steinbeck are all dear to me, especially The Pearl and Cannery Row. I couldn't stand reading The Grapes of Wrath for the longest time, especially since I knew The Beverly Hillbillies to be something of a gross parody of the classic novel. I shouldn't have watched the parody before attempting to read the novel, since the parody got superimposed onto the characters of Steinbeck's book--far worse than when one watches the movie before reading the book. I finally got around to The Grapes of Wrath, though. The film is also good for a long plane ride.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I still swear by Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume, which reads like a fun, tangential and modern retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The novel gave me an appreciation for the importance of our ability to stop and smell the roses during life's impermanence.
Book you've bought for the cover:
They say not to judge a book by its cover, but we all do it, right? I'm a sucker for special effects on covers such as foil, embossing and high gloss. Sometimes the paper stock gets me, too. I couldn't resist buying Gary Panter's Jimbo in Purgatory for the foil-heavy cover, absurd storybook trim size and medieval manuscript/Bosch-inspired margin art. I was a deer in the headlights. Panter's book is a modern retelling of Dante's Divine Comedy but starring a punk rocker in a shopping mall. I don't think I was wrong to judge Jimbo in Purgatory by the cover.
Book you hid from your parents:
While I never hid books from my parents because they are both book lovers, it seems to me that most kids would have hidden these books of mine, since they were filled with sex/drugs/rock 'n' roll: Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch.
Book that changed your life:
Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man will always be a light in the darkness for many, and it won major awards such as the National Book Award, so no wonder it is now a classic and required reading in many schools. I think Ralph Ellison's novel stands as a testament to what the individual must sometimes withstand in the face of the dangers of groupthink. It reminds people of the importance of individualism. I continually come back to Invisible Man as a source of inspiration in my life and in my work.
Favorite line from a book:
I know that a lot of people probably use this quote, but I have always enjoyed this line from the poet Dylan Thomas, reminding us to live each day to its fullest: "Do not go gentle into that good night,/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Just don't put that quote on a poster for inspiration and we can all continue to feel comfortable in using it.
Five books you'll never part with:
If I get stuck on a desert island, I think it would be wise of me to bring along a few classics since those never get old, right? Let's say Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and a novel by each of the Brontë sisters. There are some rare books that I keep in an old grandfather clock I gutted and added shelves to for storing my rare books and antique cameras. A couple of the books I would bring from there are my signed copy of A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee and my first edition of The Stories of John Cheever.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha might make me feel enlightened all over again and bring me back to some good times in my high school years. Hesse's book was a big doorway for me to Buddhism and many other books, such as works by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, and even Osamu Tezuka's manga, Buddha. Hesse's book was one of the first my parents put in my hands as a teen. It was as though they knew I was about to embark on a new journey. Who knows, reading Siddhartha again for the first time might just inspire me to go on another road trip!
Favorite time and place to read:
I can't think of a better place than on a plane or on a beach. A plane will have just a few distractions such as the occasional announcement or drink and snack service. There are also very few things to disturb a reader on the beach, too, other than the sound of the ocean and the birds. As for a favorite time of day or evening to read? Anytime is a good time, but the best time is when I'm having my coffee on a quiet Saturday morning. Now if I could just get some coffee on the beach.