Christopher Sorrentino is the author of a previous novel, Sound on Sound. He has contributed fiction, essays, and criticism to The Baffler, Bookforum, Conjunctions, Fence, and McSweeney's, among other publications and is a contributor to Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers: Writers on Comics. He lives in Brooklyn.
Author biography courtesy of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
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Some interesting outtakes from our interview wth Sorrentino:
"My first book was a dystopic science fiction novel that I wrote when I was 12, entitled The Life and Hard Times of Earth and Earthlings. The idea was that in the not-too-distant future, citizens of the U.S. would have a metered amount of noise they were permitted to make each month. The pretext for this restriction was that noise pollution had reached intolerable levels, but in fact it was a means by which the state suppressed free speech. The novel is notable mostly for its moments of unintentional hilarity."
"I finished the final draft of Trance on Bloomsday, 2004."
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In the fall of 2005, Christopher Sorrentino took some time out to talk with us about his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
I was never influenced by a single book. The thing that had the greatest influence on me was an idea that runs completely counter to what conventional wisdom (as expressed by everyone from daily book reviewers to high school English teachers) has to say about fiction and literature, which is that it has the responsibility to fluently express good ideas, to illuminate human nature, to achieve sympathy with its characters, and to accurately represent reality. To this cramped concept of literature the books I was very fortunate to be guided to, mostly by my father, say, "Baloney!" These books tend to eschew all of these received ideas, positing instead that fiction is the province of the imagination, that the colder the eye the writer casts upon his or her material the better, and that the only "reality" a book is capable of reflecting is its own, a reality to which the reader must submit.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?
There are so many that a truly pared-down list would be two or three times this length. But what each of the books listed here has in common with the others is that I read it for the first time during the period immediately after I'd escaped from my previous life and seriously set out to teach myself to become a writer. They mattered to me in many different sorts of ways -- by teaching me craft, by accentuating an elegant structure, by showing me what a novel could accommodate, by rewarding me for patience and persistence, by simply extending my sense of what prose was.
Walter Abish, How German Is It
Thomas Bernhard, Woodcutters
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
Robert Coover, The Public Burning
Don DeLillo, Libra
Stephen Dixon, Interstate
William Faulkner, Light in August
William Gaddis, JR
David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress
Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman
Toby Olson, The Woman Who Escaped from Shame
Philip Roth, Zuckerman Bound
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
Right now I find myself listening a lot to ‘50s hard bop, tenor men like Rollins, Coltrane, and Johnny Griffin. I never listen to music when I write; music is always so much more interesting than the sentence I'm staring at.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
I think Oprah got it just right with Light in August.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I like to go out on a limb and recommend novels that I really like. The risk factor is pretty high. I find novels to be very personal, almost awkward gifts, as if you're insisting that someone spend a lot of time with you.
What are you working on now?
I am finishing up a top-secret pseudonymous collaboration with Jonathan Lethem that you'll be seeing next spring.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I think the thing about writers' horror stories is that they're all pretty much the same: Isolation, rejection, unrewarded persistence. It's the flip side to silence, exile, and cunning. It's a funny life. I used to keep my rejection slips on the fridge so I could look at them, but around the time I ran out of room it stopped being funny, so I put them away.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
I would choose my father, Gilbert Sorrentino, the influence of whose remarkably inventive output over the last 40 years I regularly spot in the work of others, but who at the age of 76 still wonders with each new book whether it'll be published or not.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Get a thick skin, acquire patience, forget about celebrity, keep reading, keep an open mind, work every day, and take chances.
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