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 Riots I Have Known, Ryan Chapman.
Book Marks: Favorite re-read?
Ryan Chapman: Mark Leyner’s The Sugar Frosted Nutsack. Do not be put off by the title! It’s the most inventive, scabrous novel of the last ten years. And if I need a humanist pep talk, I return to one of Zadie Smith’s essay collections.
BM: What book do you think your book is most in conversation with?
RC: This question feels like a trap, or an invitation for bald-faced pretension…
One second. *Walks away, downs some whiskey, returns*
I’d have to say Martin Amis’s Money. A modern classic of bile and excess and humor running so counter to our current literary sphere that it almost shames our current literary sphere. While I like art when it tickles and pokes, I admire art when it concusses.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
RC: Everyone says Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. Everyone is right.
BM: Last book you read?
RC: Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing. Just astonishing.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
RC: This fall the Brooklyn-based publisher Wendy’s Subway issued The Odd Years by performance artist Morgan Bassichis, which collects their to-do lists from 2017 and 2019 (hence the title). Vaccine parties in 2021 should include recitations from its pages:
“FIND AFFORDABLE CULT”
“STOP TALKING ABOUT THE FUCKING LOBSTER ROLLS”
“CRAM NAOMI KLEIN BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”
I wish I could buy copies for all my friends.
BM: What’s one book you wish you had read during your teenage years?
RC: Anything by James Baldwin.
BM: Classic book you hate?
RC: I don’t hate books, just people. Though I’ve never enjoyed Dickens, and it’s difficult to articulate why. Is it his emphasis on plot, which imbalances depth of character? Maybe. I love a good plot in mysteries and thrillers, but in Dickens it feels somehow adolescent. Relatedly, this explains my ambivalence toward The Secret History—I should have read it in high school.
BM: Classic book on your To Be Read pile?
RC: The NYRB Classics edition of William Gaddis’s J R. I’ve tried to finish his first novel The Recognitions (twice!). But the time seems right for a doorstop financial satire written almost entirely in dialogue.
BM: What’s a book with a really great sex scene?
BM: Favorite book no one has heard of?
RC: Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Senselessness. A slim masterpiece on state corruption, individual complicity, and the function of art in the face of atrocity.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
RC: I’m jumping between Walter Serner’s Last Loosening, Jazmina Barrera’s On Lighthouses, and Reeves Wiedeman’s Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork.
BM: Book you wish would be adapted for a film/tv show?
RC: Someone should give David Fincher a blank check to direct Donald Antrim’s The Hundred Brothers. Screenplay by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
Ryan Chapman is a Sri Lankan-American writer originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His debut novel Riots I Have Known (Simon & Schuster) was longlisted for The Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and named a best book of the year by Electric Literature and The Marshall Project. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Guardian, GQ, Bookforum, McSweeney’s, Frieze, BOMB, The Believer, and The Brooklyn Rail, among other publications. He lives in Kingston, New York.
Ryan Chapman’s Riots I Have Known is out now in paperback from Simon & Schuster