|photo: Elena Seibert
Scott Spencer is the author of 12 novels--two of which were finalists for the National Book Award--including Endless Love, Waking the Dead, A Ship Made of Paper and, most recently, An Ocean Without a Shore (Ecco, June 16, 2020). He has taught at Columbia University, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Williams College, the University of Virginia and at Eastern Correctional Facility as part of the Bard Prison Initiative. He lives in upstate New York.
On your nightstand now:
On my nightstand now is A Brief History of Fascist Lies by Federico Finchelstein--George Santayana said that those who don't understand the past are doomed to repeat it, but as I read Finchelstein I think that understanding the past may not be enough. I live with a neatnik, so I don't like to make a pile on my side of the bed. Only two other books are there now, Disgrace by Coetzee, a re-read, inspired by a recent re-read of Don DeLillo's White Noise. Just as you need to re-see a great painting, some books need to be revisited from time to time. Their brilliance is foundational. The third book on my night table is Return to Romance, an appreciation of Ogden Whitney, creator of Courage and Kisses, I Want a Real Man and many other illustrated soap operas, the so-called love comics, a genre I've always enjoyed.
Favorite book when you were a child:
My favorite book as a child was The Kid from Tompkinsville by John R. Tunis, a bit creaky now, perhaps, but a great compromise for me as a boy--satisfying my parents' wish to see me curled up with a book, and my desire to think about baseball baseball baseball, and imagine myself as The Kid, breaking into the majors, though my fantasy debut was with the White Sox, not the Dodgers!
Your top five authors:
The authors I am most drawn to appear and recede as my life takes its inevitable plunges, ascents and hairpin turns. But when I think of who I read with pleasure and awe 50 years ago and still read with pleasure and awe today, three names appear: Shakespeare, Dickens, Nabokov. Those who I read 30 years ago, and still read today: Morrison, Roth, Hemingway.
Book you've faked reading:
Yes, there are a couple of books I've faked reading. And I've done so to people-please the authors. Not proud of it, but I'd be insane to confess at this point.
Book you're an evangelist for:
I have made it a point to get copies of Charles Portis's Dog of the South into the hands of loved ones. Likewise, Portis's Masters of Atlantis. Also have happily given A Mother's Kisses and Stern, both by Bruce Jay Friedman. What these four books have in common is a voice--cockeyed and poker-faced--that quickly winds its way into you and provokes laughter that can verge on the uncontrollable.
Book you hid from your parents:
As a prudish but desirous 12-year-old, the book I hid from my parents was Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury, a paperback that they, in fact, were hiding from me. I re-read the sexy and violent end innumerable times, until my parents caught on that I'd discovered their guilty pleasure and the book mysteriously vanished.
Book that changed your life:
The book that changed by life was--undoubtedly--The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, an anthology put together by Donald Allen. The poetry riveted me, and the little manifestos written by the poets at the back of the book formed a reading list that lasted for me several years, and was, more than any classroom, the source of my higher education.
Favorite line from a book:
My favorite line from a book? So difficult to choose. Maybe impossible. First thought is I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, from Ginsberg's Howl, first encountered in the above-mentioned Donald Allen anthology. The line, maximalist and unafraid, invites argument, even a bit of eye-rolling. But the music of it really got to me, and still does, as did/does Isn't it pretty to think so, from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.
Five books you'll never part with:
The above-mentioned neatnik (see: bedside table) sometimes mentions our culling the books in our library. Guarding against the possibility of her reading this, I am not going to whittle my preferences down to five. I would really prefer not to part with any of my books, even the ones that won't be re-read, and some that weren't finished the first time through. The books are memories, signposts of a life's journey. And they deserve the respect of a frequently dusted shelf upon which to grow old.