David Gilbert’s archly entertaining and insightful novel & Sons, about a once-lauded novelist reaching out to his estranged family, was published in the US to rave reviews that variously compared his storytelling, mastery of language and observational skills to Dostoyevsky, Ford Madox Ford, Proust and Nabokov. As the book is released in the UK, he casts a critical eye over his actual writing habits and influences…
Where are you now?
In my apartment in New York, not Brooklyn but Greenwich Village, which was Brooklyn before Brooklyn was Brooklyn, except when Walt Whitman lived there.
Where and when do you do most of your writing?
I have a small office on the ground floor of my apartment building. It was once part of a dentist’s office and if I’m really quiet I can hear the sound of drilling followed by gauzed screams. It’s a lovely place to work.
If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?
I surf the internet for about seven hours, have a late lunch, nap, then get down to business.
Full-time or part-time?
Please, that’s a full-time job
Pen or keyboard?
Keyboard. A pen in my hand turns me into a monkey with a sharp object.
How do you relax when you’re writing?
Usually by not writing.
How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?
Out the window and onto the head of the guy who is presently honking his car horn.
Who do you write for?
Myself mostly. And my dog.
Who do you share your work in progress with?
Which literary character do you wish you created?
James Bond, because how cool would that be. And then Humbert Humbert. What I’d really like to do is merge the two: Humbert Humbert Bond.
Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.
Anything by Philip Larkin and Emily Dickinson. Don DeLillo. Nathanael West. Nabokov. The end bit of Time Regained with the paving stones. Every page of Moby Dick and most of Tristram Shandy. Stanley Elkin. There’s too much and I have no favourite line.
All of the above and the ones below as well.
Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?
Stoner by John Williams and The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.
What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?
A lamp, an alarm clock, a glass of water that’s three days old, and a tower of books that stares over me like a schoolmarm with a brutal ruler. On my e-reader lots of crime stuff and genre fiction and pictures of my dog reenacting famous movie scenes that involve funny hats.
Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?
I’m not telling, as I usually lie about all the books I’ve read.
Which book/s do you treasure the most?
A signed edition of End Zone from Don DeLillo, a book I adapted into a script that happily Mr DeLillo enjoyed. I also have a signed galley of Infinite Jest with the sweetest little sketch by David Foster Wallace.
What is the last work you read in translation?
Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann in a wonderful translation by John Woods.
Which story collections would you particularly recommend?
So many good ones. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson was certainly important to me when I was younger. Amy Hempel. Alice Munro. The usual suspects really. Bobcat by Rebecca Lee was quite marvellous.
What will you read next?
The medication guide to Adderall by Barr Pharmaceuticals
What are you working on next?
Presently working on a strange short story and gathering up thoughts for my next book. I enjoy the gathering process much more than I enjoy the writing process. It all seems so lovely in my head.
Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?
I have no idea but they would all have to enjoy take-out and cheap wine.
If you weren’t writing you’d be…?
Probably much happier.
David Gilbert is the author of the story collection Remote Feed and the novel The Normals. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ and Bomb.
& Sons is published by Fourth Estate in hardback and eBook. Read more.