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Watson shared his reading recommendations with Barnes & Noble.com:
"Be on the lookout for Karl Iagnemma's superb first collection of stories, On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction. Karl is brilliant and funny, and so is his fiction.
Read Silas House's new novel, A Parchment of Leaves. It's a beautiful book.
Read Richard Bausch's new novel, Hello to the Cannibals, or anything else by this important American writer; he should be a constant bestseller.
Find and reread Allen Wier's first two books, Blanco and Things About to Disappear, to find out why more of us should read his excellent and beautiful writing.
Read anything by Barry Hannah.
Read the new paperback of A False Sense of Well-Being, by Jeanne Braselton.
I could go on, but I'm trying to get you to read great books by people who I admit are friends of mine, and there are too many of them. But these really are great books by great writers. Read them, read as much as you can. Read at least one book of good fiction a month: you deserve it."
Watson recalls the first "real job" he ever held down, the summer after 9th grade: "My best friend Scotty Mills and I tended the gas pumps and outdoor beer cooler for a little corner grocery in Meridian, Mississippi. One came on at 7:00 a.m. and worked till 3:00, the other at 3:00 and worked till 10:00 or 11:00 at night. Scotty was once arrested for selling beer to 17-year-old minors, though he was but 14 himself. It was perhaps an honest mistake. We sometimes slipped into the outdoor cooler and snitched a Heineken before leaving the morning shift and going home for a nap; no one in Meridian drank Heineken in those days, and the owner never missed them. When you stepped out of the freezing cooler into the July heat after killing a Heineken, man, you drifted in a fog back over to Scotty's house across the street for a great nap in his room with the big windows, box fan roaring."
Watson's second favorite job was as a garbage man in Hollywood. He reminices, "I was the single employee of an Armenian-American named Zarko Dmirjian, who owned one truck. I drove down bad alleys at four in the morning and hauled out bins of putrid trash, but I loved working alone and driving the truck; it gave me time to daydream. I was out there to become an actor in the movies, but when I left and went home a year later, I was beginning to think about writing, instead."
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In the fall of 2002, Brad Watson answered some of our questions.
What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?
Lots of books have influenced my life, but when I was a freshman in college, I read Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, and its combination of beautiful sentences and great storytelling first stirred in me a desire to be a writer myself. We went on, in that class taught by Buck Thomas at Meridian Junior College, to read several other great books by Southern writers: Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, William Faulkner's The Bear, Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away, Madison Jones's A Cry of Absence, and others. All had an important effect on me as someone who wanted to write fiction. Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie had a similar effect on me, though I haven't read it in a while and I know people complain of Dreiser's heavy-handed style. But it's a powerful story, and I still love storytelling as much as I love its vehicle, the language.
What are your ten favorite books -- and why?
- Selected Stories, by Eudora Welty. Welty's combination of gorgeous writing and uncanny sensitivity to her characters' inner lives is unmatched in anything I've seen.
- Beowulf. Action, poetry, elegy, monster.
- The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene. Beautifully evokes the isolation of the human heart, gets at something essential and essentially dark about the human condition, with sympathy but without flinching or cheating at all.
- As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. He takes such great risks by giving this language to these people, and breaks the rules and takes it so far, so well, that you have to make the leap with him. It's what genius should be: bold, inventive, surprising, audacious, beautiful.
- Madame Bovary, by Flaubert. I need to read it again, it's been too long. But I remember how powerfully it affected me, the depth of his empathy and power to patiently, almost moment-by-moment, remove the clutter that impedes a startlingly clear view of human behavior in a couple of very complex common people. To reveal the devastating, bland truth about what happens.
- All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren. See above.
- A Good Man Is Hard to Find, by Flannery O'Connor. This is my favorite of her books, and I love the stories more than the novels. There are no stories like this anywhere else, from any other writer. She is unique among American short story writers, and her voice -- though people are compared to her quite often -- is inimitable.
- The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy. Percy captured something of the American character at the time in this book, in a way no one really had before that I know of. Binx Bolling is a fine synthesis of hope and bewilderment, of keen insight and indecisiveness. And it's one of the few books written in present tense that ought to have been written that way, had to be written that way, as opposed to some that seem so awkwardly attached to the device.
- The Stranger, by Albert Camus -- the "American" translation. I don't have my copy handy, so can't say the name of the translator right now, but this edition came out around 1989, I think, and is superior to the earlier, British translation, probably because Camus, I believe he said, was influenced by American hard-boiled fiction when he wrote this book. Read the French, if you can -- I no longer can -- but read the American translation if you can't read French.
- The novels of Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald. I'm only now reading MacDonald, but I love these writers because of the way they mastered this kind of narrative voice, the way they saturate us beautifully in a sense of the places they write about, and because of their dark, honest visions of the underside of American life. I think I'm going to like MacDonald most of all. In The Chill, his narrator Lew Archer is not so much a tough guy as he is a survivor with his own flaws subtly woven into our awareness as we read. MacDonald was one of Welty's favorites, after all. What better recommendation?
I've got others; it's hard to stop at ten, nearly impossible. This isn't fair. Oh -- I've got to add The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro -- one of the most beautiful books of the last ten years, I think -- violating my decision not to mention recent books because I love so many books by friends who are writers. I'll go no further, then.
Again, I guess I could go on. I have few limits.
- The Last Picture Show
- Lolita (the original)
- Citizen Kane
- Apocalypse Now
- Mulholland Drive
- White Mischief
- What was the title of the movie made from William Harrison's Burton and Speake?
- American Beauty
- The Usual Suspects
Some traditional blues, not much jazz -- maybe Bird, some classical -- Schubert, Chopin -- some of the new things that bridge folk/rock/blues/country such as Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch, Steve Earle. Taj Mahal. Vic Chestnut. Jimmy Rodgers. Phineus J. Newborn. Music made with primitive instruments such as very very long horns. Some Dylan, here and there along the way. Some Lennon. Some Neil Young, across the spectrum. I don't get to listen enough, don't know nearly enough. But of course we need some more Jen Trynin, don't we? No question.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
We'd maybe be reading the works of Greene, or Robert Stone, or Cormac McCarthy, or all of those. To get a sense of the similarities and differences in Greene's and Stone's work, and to look at the development of McCarthy from Southern writer to Western writer, and to look at the evolution of his narrative style.
What else do you want your readers to know?
I love books, movies, water, and often I love isolation. Beyond that it's too personal.
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