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Jason Diamond on grand settings and reading in the morning

Author Jason Diamond.Isaac Fitzgerald

In “The Sprawl: Reconsidering the Weird American Suburbs” writer Jason Diamond examines how suburbia has shaped the country’s cultural landscape in profound ways. Using personal experience, history, and cultural reportage, Diamond finds these tidy, bland environs have produced or inspired some of the country’s finest artists, writers such as Dave Eggers and Jonathan Lethem and filmmakers John Hughes and Sofia Coppola. Diamond, who grew up in Skokie, Ill., is also the author of the memoir “Searching for John Hughes.” A former editor at Men’s Journal and Rolling Stone, he lives in Brooklyn.

BOOKS: Has the pandemic influenced your reading?

DIAMOND: I’ve been reading stuff that takes me out of the present day as much as possible. A comedy of manners, give it to me. British stuff from the mid 20th century, give it to me. At the beginning of lockdown, I picked up the 1929 novel “Grand Hotel” by Vicki Baum. That set me on this path where I want to take in as many movies and books about fabulous people stuck in hotels or mansions.

BOOKS: What has been your favorite so far?


DIAMOND: “Villa of Delirium” by the French novelist Adrien Goetz. It’s a historical novel based on a rich Jewish family in the early 1900s that built this grand home. It’s a perfect late summer book. At the start of summer everyone talks about picking their beach books but I think about what I’m going to read in the middle of August to get me through the dog days. Normally I would be on a subway going to work. There’s something beautiful about blocking out the smell and sweat of the train by digging into a book.

BOOKS: Did you do most of your reading on your commute before the pandemic?

DIAMOND: No. My wife makes fun of me because I have a strict morning regimen. I write, meditate, and read for a good solid 45 minutes. But I read any chance I can. It’s my neuroses. I feel like if I’m not reading I’m getting stupider.


BOOKS: What kind of books do you read in the morning?

DIAMOND: I think morning reading influences the rest of your day. So I might read Tolstoy’s religious stuff or Wendell Berry. I’m not a religious person but I like religious writers, like Marilynne Robinson.

BOOKS: What did you read for your own book that you would recommend?

DIAMOND: The world doesn’t need another white guy talking about the importance of Cheever but I found his journals really enlightening. I reread “The Invaders” by Karolina Waclawiak, which came out five years ago. She’s in the second generation of suburban fiction writers. Cheever and Richard Yates, and even Shirley Jackson, could be considered in the first. “The Lottery” could be looked at as a metaphor for the suburbs.

BOOKS: Did growing up the suburbs influence you as a reader?

DIAMOND: Absolutely. I have ADHD and had such a hard time paying attention for long periods of time, but I could sit and read for an hour. This is one of the great mysteries of my life. I think it had to do with feeling isolated as a kid. I grew up around a lot of people who didn’t speak English. I didn’t speak Yiddish or Russian very well.

BOOKS: Are there books you think do a good job of portraying Chicago?


DIAMOND: “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. One of my junior-high teachers said, “This is a great Chicago book.” Jami Attenberg, who is a close friend, wrote “The Middlesteins,” which captures the Jewish-American experience in the Chicagoland suburbs.

BOOKS: Is there a writer you’ve read everything they’ve written?

DIAMOND: I think I have read as much Philip Roth as I can. I always saw his books around the house when I was young. I have read way too much P.G. Wodehouse. Silly well-dressed British people with funny names, that’s like catnip for me. It also helps me feel more glamorous, especially when everything is so not glamorous.

BOOKS: Is there a book you feel guilty about not having read?

DIAMOND: I don’t feel guilty about stuff like that. I’ll read something when I’m ready. I have this grand romantic vision of being an old man and having nothing but time to read and reread, of being 85 and picking up “War and Peace” again. But I’m nowhere near that.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Rescuing Penny Jane’' and she can be reached at amysutherland@mac.com.