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‘The Deluge’ author Stephen Markley plays the literary lottery

Stephen Markley is an American journalist and author.Michael Amico

In his new novel, “The Deluge,” Stephen Markley makes the unimaginable imaginable by following a cast of characters as they navigate the ever-intensifying climate crisis. Markley is also the author of “Ohio: A Novel,” the memoir “Publish this Book: The Unbelievable True Story of How I Wrote, Sold, and Published This Very Book,” and the travelogue “Tales of Iceland: Running With the Huldufólk in the Permanent Daylight.” He is a writer for the TV series “Only Murders in the Building.” He lives in Los Angeles.

BOOKS: What was your last best read?

MARKLEY: I read three fantastic novels in a row this past year. I was so happy. Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing,” Michael Christie’s “Greenwood,” and James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room.” I hadn’t been just tearing through books like that in a while. Then I read something after that which was kind of yeck. That happens.


BOOKS: How would you describe your taste as a reader?

MARKLEY: I like to pride myself on not having any particular taste, that I will try anything. The way I do that is I’m a little library user. I donate books and if I find something, I take it. That book might sit on the shelf for five or 10 years. My standard joke is that I now have more books than I have days in my life left to read.

BOOKS: How do you pick which ones you will read?

MARKLEY: I have this bizarre little system where I write down the names of novels sitting on my shelf on bits of paper and then I put them in a tin. Then I scrape around in the tin to see what I’m supposed to read next. It’s fantastic. It creates this interesting literary life lottery.

BOOKS: What have been some of your recent best reads using your lottery system?


MARKLEY: I just read Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.” I found it in a little library seven years ago. I couldn’t put it down. I love a big novel that you can vanish into. Another one, which I read longer ago, is “The Frontiersman” by Allan W. Eckert. It’s about the wars between the Indigenous people and settlers in Ohio in the 18th century.

BOOKS: Do you read every book to the end?

MARKLEY: I am a total psychotic completist. There are maybe three books in the last decade that I haven’t finished. This is why I’m somewhat terrified of starting a novel because I know I will plow through it regardless. I have this masochistic need. Maybe it’s why I could write a 1,000-page novel over 10 years.

BOOKS: What else do you read?

MARKLEY: I’m also a big nonfiction reader, mostly for research. For the last decade that has been a ton of climate change tomes. Now, I’m interested in the damage social media and American capitalism are doing to our brains and society. I recently finished “Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy” by Cathy O’Neil, and “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” by Jaron Lanier. I’m also reading a book on synthetic genomics called “The Genesis Machine” by Amy Webb and Andrew Hessel. I’ll also still pick up a Stephen King novel. I’ll dole those out because they are such a source of pleasure. They are my reward for struggling through denser stuff.


BOOKS: Is there a book you recommend often?

MARKLEY: Right now, I’ve been recommending “The Big Fix” by Hal Harvey and Justin Gillis when people ask me what can we do about climate change. He’s looking at the problem dispassionately and practically. It’s a clear-eyed book about what we can do and where we can exert pressure on our political system.

BOOKS: Have you consistently been a voracious reader?

MARKLEY: I’ve always been this stay-up-to-2 a.m.-tearing-through-a-novel person. It’s such a source of pleasure even when I’m not reading something that pleasurable. I kind of struggle to understand people who don’t read. It’s not a snooty thing. I just get such an enormous benefit out of reading in my life, I want that for everyone else.