Gregory Pardlo: How to Pretend You’ve Read a Book You Haven’t
The Author of Air Traffic on the Books in His Life
Gregory Pardlo’s latest book, Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America, is available now from Knopf.
What was the first book you fell in love with?
Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing spoke to me—the title alone was a beacon in the fog. It was possibly the first book I read of my own volition. No one handed it to me and said, “read this.” That book depicted emotional dynamics I was experiencing but didn’t know that I was experiencing until it gave me the language to say so. That was probably the first book that made me visible to myself. It affirmed my interior life.
Name a classic you feel guilty about never having read.
I have a very low tolerance for guilt. I try to get rid of it however I can as quickly as I can. Shame, on the other hand: I push my shame around like a tarp-covered shopping cart overloaded with useless embarrassments. Whenever someone references a book I haven’t read, but they assume I have, I turn into an amateur mentalist reading and mirroring that person’s facial cues to give them the impression that of course, it goes without saying, I was thinking the exact same thing, there’s no need to discuss it further, we’re on the same page. Then, the first chance I get, I pull up a summary of the book online or worse, I pull it off the shelf at home and skim enough to figure out what the point was that I had earlier cosigned. Sometimes I do more than skim. Sometimes. But for the sake of the question, I’ll expose myself to eternal tsk-tsking: I’ve never read Faulkner.
What’s the book you reread the most?
Rereading is a luxury I don’t often have time for considering how many books I’m shamed into skimming on a daily basis. When I do reread, Leaves of Grass is probably my most consistent comfort food.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
Octavia Butler’s Kindred is a book that, instead of me reading it, when I open its pages I feel like it’s reading me, updating the software of my thought processes.
What’s the new book you’re most looking forward to?
Porochista Khakpour’s Sick.