Quo Vadimus

Thursday, February 12, 2004


It's a pleasurable thing.

As promised last month, the new issue of The Believer does indeed contain Ryan Bartelmay's interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman. The basic premise, from Bartelmay's intro:

I asked Hoffman if he would be interested in having a conversation with me about books. However, I added a slight wrinkle: Hoffman and I would use the short story "Sea Oak" by George Saunders as a platform from which to launch our discussion. I've always been a fan of Saunders's work, and I'm that type of reader who enjoys pushing favorite writers on fellow readers. The Believer sent Hoffman a copy of Pastoralia, the short-story collection in which "Sea Oak" appears, and in November I was invited to his New York City office, which is in an apartment building in Chelsea.

More from the intro:

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a damned good actor and last year he became a father. He is also a reader, and he has recently exhausted shelving space in his New York City apartment and has resorted to stacking books in his apartment's hallway. At any one time he is usually reading an absurd amount of books to varying degrees of completion. Like most readers, he has the tendency to stop a book before reaching the last page -- sidetracked by work or, more often another book. When our conversation took place, a week before Thanksgiving, he was in the midst of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Human Stain by Philip Roth, and Adam Haslett's short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here.

Nice. The partially- or unread stacks. The towers of books. So daunting. Just when you think you are finally going to tear into that Lethem ("Book of the Moment" in September), there's the DFW math book still taunting you, the two Shepard things, Optic Nerve #9, the new Biskind, etc. And that's just the new(-ish) release pile. Lurking nearby are the likes of Denis Johnson, Judy Budnitz, a Woody Allen bio, Joanna Scott, Donald Antrim, pre-The Corrections Franzen, Gig, Arthur Bradford, Lydia Davis, Amy Hempel, Carolyn Cooke, Atul Gawande, Jonathan Safran Foer, Zadie Smith, Dan Chaon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Colson Whitehead, Stanley Elkin, Paula Fox (C Lo's grandmother, by the way), David Gates, various McSweeney's quarterlies, some stray Vonneguts, Ulysses (too long!), ...

But, you can always save them for later:

PSH: Books... they're kind of a compulsion for me. To find a great bookstore is a great thing.
BLVR: What kind of bookstores do you like?
PSH: There's this one called Three Lives. It's right by where I live in the West Village. I've been venturing into it lately. It's this fantastic bookstore.
BLVR: Is it a used bookstore or a new one?
PSH: It's a new bookstore, but they have a really great selection of stuff. I like the Strand but I get lost in there. It's frustrating for me. I end up walking out with like six books under my arm that I know I'm not going to be able to read anytime soon. It's kind of that fantasy of what life will be like when I get older. All I'll have time for is reading all the books that I've collected through my life. But now it's just making sure I have them at my disposal. What I end up doing is reading a lot of different books at the same time.

The interview is great, so pick up the issue, but here's how the "Sea Oak" discussion starts:

BLVR: Where did you read "Sea Oak"?
PSH: I read it on my couch at home last night, and I read it on this couch here. I end up doing a lot of reading lying down. When I first read the story, I didn't know if it was going to get away from me with its queer, odd depiction of life. I didn't know if it was going to become petty, like Repo Man. You know that movie?
BLVR: [Laughs] Yeah.
PSH: The food's all generic -- it's oxy-generic. You're in the world but you're not really in the world. I liked Repo Man, but you never feel when you're watching that movie.
BLVR: So you thought it was going to be a depiction of a hyper-exaggerated world?
PSH: Yeah. But what I really liked about the story is that George Saunders was able to take his commentary on society -- about the TV shows they were watching and the strip club the narrator is in and the different levels of success and if you're lowered down you get fired in front of everybody.... [laughing] But the whole thing in the end was very moving. Very moving.

Recommended viewing: Stone Reader. Sapolin nails it.

posted by Linus | 7:17 PM