Kevin Wilson: I Pretend to Have Read Books All the Time
On the Genius of Seinfeld and Jennifer Egan
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is now available from Ecco Books.
What time of day do you write?
I rarely write. I’m mostly inside of my head when I’m figuring out stories, so I don’t sit down and write all that much. I like keeping it inside my head, away from the page, so it can sit in my brain and get weirder as I hold onto it.
When I do write, I can’t handle mornings and if it gets too late in the evening, I end up just watching old clips of DJ Craze from the DMC championships and hours have gone by. So I like to write around 10 am and then go to about 8 pm.
Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?
Seinfeld. I was twelve, I believe, when it came out, and it really shaped me in a lot of ways. Not just the humor of it, but the way the narrative worked, pulling the different storylines together. I think part of it was growing up in the South, in the middle of nowhere, to see these people in New York having absurd, ridiculous lives, was so wonderful. I learned how to properly say certain words from that show, words I’d only seen on paper and wasn’t entirely sure about the pronunciation. And it was a show that my mom and dad also really loved, so we’d watch it together every week (though now I’m trying to figure out how we managed to watch episodes like “The Contest” or “The Fusilli Jerry” together).
What was the first book you fell in love with?
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I read this in grade school and it was the first book where I really felt myself opening up because of a story, that my life was changing as I made my way through it. It’s a pretty harsh book in a lot of ways, but it’s infused with such beauty, such a clear understanding of the world, that I felt like I could survive the kind of pain that was coming for me, growing up. My oldest son’s middle name is Fodder-Wing, after a character in that book, perhaps my favorite character in all literature.
Name a classic you feel guilty about never having read?
All of them. Within my English Department, 75 percent of my interactions are pretending I’ve read books that I absolutely have not. I came to reading literature late, and when I discovered contemporary fiction, it was all I wanted to read. And when I worked backwards, it wasn’t the classics necessarily. It was reading all of Shirley Jackson or Dorothy B Hughes or Charles Willeford.
If I had to pin down one, it’s probably Ulysses. I feel like that’s a book that I definitely have to pretend that I’ve read a lot, and it would relieve some stress if I just went ahead and read it. It’s completely impenetrable to me.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
A Visit from the Goon Squad. I’ve read it so many times and it’s always amazing to see how virtuosic Egan is in that book, how she moves through each chapter, doing something different in terms of style or form in each one, while building this larger narrative that feels so life-affirming, so beautiful.
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is available from Ecco Books.