Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to the author of Bubblegum (out now in paperback), Adam Levin.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Adam Levin: Slaughterhouse-Five.
BM: Favorite re-read?
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
AL: I couldn’t reduce it to one book. It’s in conversation with a number of novels and stories by a number of authors whose work I love and go back to frequently. Among those authors would be César Aira, Kurt Vonnegut, Helen DeWitt, George Saunders, Roberto Bolaño, Michel Houellebecq, Katherine Dunn, Bohumil Hrabal, Percival Everett, Nikolai Gogol, Patrick Ourednik, Thomas Bernhard, Don DeLillo, Rebecca Curtis, JD Salinger, David Foster Wallace, Paul Beatty, Robert Coover, Barry Hannah, Elena Ferrante, Cormac McCarthy, Franz Kafka, Martin Amis, Steven Millhauser, Nicholson Baker, Jerzy Kosinski, Padgett Powell…I’m leaving at least seventeen out.
It’s probably best to just say Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, as it contains them all to one degree or another.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
AL: Books often blow my mind. My single luckiest talent is for finding books that blow my mind. Here are five books that blew my mind that were written by people I haven’t named yet.
A recent debut novel: Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump.
One that anyone who really knows me should have recommended to me years and years ago but didn’t because none of those people had read it yet (or at least claimed not have read it yet when I called them, hurt, to ask them why they hadn’t ever thought to recommend it to me): The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow.
One that, despite having won the Booker, isn’t widely read enough in these United States: Milkman by Anna Burns.
One that so successfully pulled off a certain formal move I’d previously objected to that I was forced to reconsider the way I chose the books I would read and thereby changed the way I approached writing the books I would write: Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta.
A nonfiction one: Science and Human Behavior by B.F. Skinner, which helped to convince me that neither I nor anyone else even has a mind, let alone a blowable one.
BM: Last book you read?
AL: I read a lot of books at once lately, so it’s hard to say. I just re-read Jesse Ball’s The Divers’ Game, read Huysmans’ Against Nature and Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea for the first time, dipped in and out of Mishima’s collection Death in Midsummer (first time) and Catherine Lacey’s Certain American States (not the first time).
BM: A book that made you cry?
AL: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas is the first that comes to mind, but I’m married to Camille Bordas, so I should probably name another one also, and so here is another one: Franny and Zooey.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
AL: Ghost Engine by Christian TeBordo, my favorite story collection in a while.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
AL: It’s not at all uncommon for me to laugh out loud when reading. The works of the vast majority of authors I love make me laugh out loud.
A recent novel by an author I love that made me laugh out loud far more frequently than most would be The Organs of Sense by Adam Ehrlich Sachs.
Another slightly less recent one that otherwise fits the above description: Dead Stars by Bruce Wagner.
A novel by an author I love containing a moment that made me laugh out loud for longer than I’ve laughed out loud at a single fictional moment (minutes!) in a number of years would be Novel 11, Book 18 by Dag Solstad.
In George Saunders’s collection In Persuasion Nation, there’s a story called “CommComm” that contains an eleven-word line about some graffiti on the body of an airplane (I will not spoil it here, out of context), and I have, for about fifteen years, semi-voluntarily recalled that line at least twice a month and laughed out loud every time.
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
BM: Favorite book to give as a gift?
AL: Four-way tie between Franny and Zooey, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Geek Love, and Europeana.
BM: Classic book you hate?
AL: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. So fucken condescending.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read Pile?
AL: Suttree by Cormac McCarthy.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
AL: I don’t know that I’ve ever read a great sex scene that is about great sex….There’s plenty of excellently uncomfortable, occasionally very funny sex stuff in the work of Mary Gaitskill and Gary Lutz. There’s a really lovely kiss in Padgett Powell’s Edisto Revisited that involves egg salad. Sex in Nicholson Baker’s work generally makes me laugh a lot. Ditto sex in Philip Roth’s work. And then there’s that story from Harold Brodkey’s Stories in an Almost Classical Mode—“Innocence,” it’s called—in which the protagonist performs cunnilingus for something like 10,000 words, which is a….tour de force? It’s something.
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
AL: The only book I’m 100% certain that no one has heard of is the one I’m working on now, so: that one, I guess.
BM: Favorite book of the 21st Century?
AL: Too early to say.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
AL: I didn’t read books I was assigned in high school.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
AL: Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler, Kaddish.com by Nathan Englander, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders and four 19thcentury Russians, Ferrante’s Lying Life of Adults; re-reading Gerald Murnane’s Stream System, Aira’s The Musical Brain, Helen DeWitt’s Some Trick, Jeff Parker’s A Taste of Penny, Pacheco’s Battles in the Desert, and Jenny Diski’s The Vanishing Princess.
BM: Favorite children’s book?
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
AL: Autoportrait by Édouard Levé.
Adam Levin is the author of The Instructions and Hot Pink. He has been a New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award winner, a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a National Jewish Book Award finalist. A longtime Chicagoan, Levin currently lives in Gainesville, Florida.
Adam Levin’s Bubblegum is out now in paperback from Anchor Books