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Michael Chabon: Promiscuous reader, horror fan

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Once upon a time Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon fed his reading addiction with 99-cent remainders he bought at the bookstore where he worked. “I also got an employee discount,” he says. He’s in town this week for a reading of his latest novel “Telegraph Avenue.” The event is sold out, but the 7 p.m. book signing at Brookline Booksmith is open.

BOOKS: You come up with reading lists for each book. What was on the one for “Telegraph Avenue”?

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CHABON: The most important publication to the evolution of this book is a music magazine called “Wax Poetic.”  That was hugely influential in terms of getting a sense of the black pop music of the ’70s that my two main characters were interested in.

BOOKS: How did you find it?

CHABON: I was in an independent bookstore in Raleigh, North Carolina — Quail Ridge Books — that has a fantastic magazine section. As I walked past it, I saw Michael Jackson’s adorable 12-year-old face staring at me from the magazine rack. I got such a poignant ache looking at that picture.

BOOKS: What have you been reading recently that you really like?

CHABON: I’m reading “Parade’s End” by Ford Maddox Ford. I’m really loving it. And before that I read Dave Egger’s “A Hologram for the King.” I loved the new Zadie Smith, “NW.” My most exciting recent literary discovery is “The Patrick Melrose Novels” by British novelist Edward St. Aubyn. Oh my god, go get them immediately. They’re beautifully written, have impeccable style and are outrageously funny.

BOOKS: Do you read mostly fiction?

CHABON: Yes. I love history and biography too. I also like reading about astronomy, physics, and neuroscience. I love Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct.” There’s an old book about physics called “The Cosmic Code” by Heinz R. Pagels, which is very well written.

BOOKS: What kind of biographies?

CHABON: Mostly writers, great historical figures. The last one I read was Richard Ellmann’s biography, “James Joyce,” which was fantastic.

BOOKS: Did you come away with a different idea of him?

CHABON: A much clearer idea, specifically of the incredible pain and suffering he underwent later in his life. He had like 17 eye surgeries, often without anesthetic.

BOOKS: Are you a big Joyce fan?

CHABON: I’ve read all of his books, some of them several times. My favorite is “Ulysses” by far. I’ve read it three times. The first time in college for a seminar in which that’s all we read. I didn’t read it again for close to 30 years. Then I reread and loved it so much that as soon as I finished it I started it over.

BOOKS: Did working in a bookstore influence you as a reader?

CHABON: It exposed me to books I wouldn’t know about. A co-worker who spoke Spanish and was into Latin American literature encouraged me to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Manuel Puig, and Carlos Fuentes.

BOOKS: Are you a horror fan?

CHABON: I’m a H.P. Lovecraft fan. I am very fond of Stephen King’s work, especially from his original heyday, such as “The Stand” and “The Shining.” I also like Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, and Clyve Barker.

BOOKS: What draws you to that genre?

CHABON: Ultimately the writing. And what you frequently get in horror is that the dull tranquility of everyday life is an illusion, that there is something horrible lurking right under the surface or waiting in a closet to get you. That’s metaphorically true.

BOOKS: Do you have any kind of system for reading?

CHABON: No. I’m a very promiscuous reader. I have 4 or 5 things I’m reading at the same time, piled by my bed or in my bag. Now I’m just reading “Parade’s End.” It’s sort of a relief to read just one book. There’s not a whole stack staring at me accusingly, saying, ‘Why aren’t you reading us?’

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