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Humorist with a serious history habit

Dave Barry

Wax Custom Communications

Dave Barry

Humorist Dave Barry has long mined the weirdness of his adopted state, Florida. He does so again with “Insane City,” his new darkly comic novel. He’ll appear at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, N.H., on Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. as part of New Hampshire Public Radio’s Writers on a New England Stage series. Ticket for the events are $17, or you can tune in for free.

BOOKS: Do you read humor books?

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BARRY: Not as much as you might think. I grew up reading a lot of humor. When I was a kid my favorite author of all was Robert Benchley. My dad had all his books. I devoured them. I also loved P.G. Wodehouse and read a lot of Mad magazine. Now, I will read Carl Hiassen. I think he’s wonderful, but what I tend to read is nonfiction these days.

BOOKS: What are some nonfiction books you’ve read recently?

BARRY: Most recently I read Michael Lewis “Boomerang.” The other guy I love is Bill Bryson. I don’t even care what he writes about because he will make it interesting. I love “A Walk in the Woods,” about the Appalachian Trail, but his most amazing book is “A Short History of Nearly Everything.”

BOOKS: Why have you gravitated to nonfiction?

BARRY: When I was a kid, I thought history was the most boring subject of all. I shouldn’t blame my teachers; I should blame me, but I’ll blame them. I never had the vaguest idea whether any of it had anything to do with me, especially being a sixth grader. When I got older and traveled, I’d read about the history of where I was going. I’d be like, “Oh, history is kind of interesting.”

BOOKS: What are some recent history books you’ve liked?

BARRY: One I’m deeply into is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” I was the only person in the US who hadn’t read it. I walked out of the movie “Lincoln” and bought the book at the bookstore next door. The one before that, which I’m not sure you can count as history, was Keith Richards’s “Life,” which he so modestly titled it. I did find it a fascinating book. Keith’s a pretty honest fellow.

BOOKS: Have you read about other musicians?

BARRY: I read Warren Zevon’s bizarre biography, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” His wife, Crystal Zevon, posthumously published a journal he wrote and some interviews with ex-band members. Like Richards’s book, it’s brutally honest.

BOOKS: When you read about history, any periods or place that draws you?

BARRY: It tends to go in spurts. For a while I got into the South Pacific theater of World War II. I read “American Caesar” by William Manchester, the biography of General MacArthur. Because of that I ended up reading “Tales of the South Pacific” by James Michener and then because of that reading his “Hawaii.” That is what happens. Now that I’m reading “Team of Rivals’’ I’ll probably ending up reading a bunch of books about the Civil War. But I think my all-time favorite book about the war is the novel, “The Killer Angels’’ by Michael Shaara. When I read that I had to go to Gettysburg. If you look at photos of the Gettysburg Address there’s a guy off to the right who I think is Keith Richards.

BOOKS: When you read fiction, what kind of books do you read?

BARRY: I read a lot of lot non-demanding fiction. I don’t want to dis anybody, but someone like Robert Parker. I first read a Spenser book maybe 20 years ago and then read every one that came out. I did that with Tony Hillerman too. I was really bummed when I got to the last one of his Navajo detective books. I read the whole Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. They don’t take long. And I read “Remembrance of Things Past” in the original French. I never start the day without reading me some Proust.

AMY SUTHERLAND

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