|photo: Linda Woods
Tod Goldberg is the author of The Low Desert: Gangster Stories (Counterpoint, February 2, 2021) and more than a dozen other books, including Gangsterland and Gangster Nation. He is also the cohost of the podcast Literary Disco and founded and directs the Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at UC Riverside. He lives in Indio, Calif., with his wife, Wendy Duren.
On your nightstand now:
My nightstand looks like a triage unit. I'm always reading a dozen books at once, and there's often little bits of ephemera stuffed in each one--Post-It notes if I'm reviewing it for print or on Literary Disco; whatever I can find to use as a bookmark (so, sometimes, you know, used Lactaid-capsule sleeves, for instance)--and it'll sometimes be months before I return to something.
Right now, I've got Jericho Brown's The Tradition marked up (if you underline everything, should you just stop underlining?); Ben Ehrenreich's Desert Notebooks opened to page 27; the manuscript pages for my friend Susan Straight's new book (which you'll love, whenever it comes out); Elmore Leonard's Swag, which I'm re-reading because it gives me joy, and man, do we need some joy. And Stephen Graham Jones's The Only Good Indians, which is scaring the crap out of me.
Favorite book when you were a child:
There was a pop-up book called The Adventures of Super Pickle by Dean Walley I was quite fond of. It was about a pickle that was a superhero. For a long time, I thought I dreamt this book up, but the Internet tells me I can have a like-new copy for just $77.
Your top five authors:
Let's go by genre, shall we?
Crime Fiction: Elmore Leonard
Dying Mill Town Fiction: Richard Russo
Short Fiction: Alice Munro
Dead Canadians Who People May Have Forgotten About: Robertson Davies
Poet: Matthew Zapruder
Book you've faked reading:
Moby-Dick. Look, I know how it ends. I know how it starts, too. Isn't that enough?
Book you're an evangelist for:
Columbine by Dave Cullen. I contend that Columbine is the single-most important book of nonfiction of the 21st century, not merely because it explores a school shooting, but also because it presages the rise of media distrust, the onset of conspiracy theories and the very nature of evil--both the banality of it and niche online celebration of it. All the ills of the 21st century are found in Cullen's exhaustive examination. Plus? It's simply great journalism.
Book you've bought for the cover:
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson--the old paperback which had this splashed across the cover: "You see--I had to destroy them!" I saw this in a used bookstore when I was 16 and was smitten.
Book you hid from your parents:
Well, this has less to do with content and more to do with action: When I was about 10, my local library refused to let me check out Of Mice and Men, because it was "too adult" for me. So, I stole it. I still have it, in fact. If the Walnut Creek branch of the Contra Costa Library is looking for their copy, missing since 1981, they can come looking for it. Come on by.
Book that changed your life:
Turns out, that stolen copy of Of Mice and Men! Reading that book was the most emotional reading experience of my young life and, in many ways, charted a path toward how I would write about criminals and men with guns for the next 40-ish years.
Favorite line from a book:
"I'm a detective and expecting me to run criminals down and let them go free is like asking a dog to catch a rabbit and let it go. It can be done, all right, and sometimes it is done, but it's not the natural thing." --The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Five books you'll never part with:
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. The one I stole. Because now it's a thing.
My signed copy of Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard, my favorite of all his novels. Even though he signed it to "Tom" instead of Tod. I mean. I can change my name.
The signed copy of Murther and Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies I found in a tiny used bookstore in some woebegone port in Alaska. Best 12 bucks I ever spent.
All of the signed copies of my friend Barbara Seranella's books. She passed away in 2007 and when I get sad thinking about her, I open those books up and there she is, alive again.
My signed copy of Bruce Springsteen's memoir Born to Run. Tramps like us, baby.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz. That book shook something loose in me.
Book you've read and re-read multiple times:
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. The first time I read this book, inexplicably, was on my honeymoon in 1998. How had I lived 27 years without reading it previously? I don't know. But I've made up for it by constantly re-reading it by virtue of assigning it to my students in both fiction and nonfiction classes and each time, the pieces within this book change for me. I can't tell you how many times I've found something new in "How to Tell a True War Story" and then pondered how I'd missed it before. A book of profound insight into violence, war and the nature of this human race.