The avant-garde theater director André Gregory of “My Dinner with André” fame is known for taking his time. He spent 17 years rehearsing Ibsen’s “Master Builder.” Lately, though, he’s been in a rush. He opened “The Designated Mourner,” a play he directed by his longtime friend Wallace Shawn, this summer while also making appearances for his wife’s new documentary about him. Despite the time crunch, Gregory will be on hand for a benefit screening of the documentary at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater.
BOOKS: How have all the recent demands affected your reading?
GREGORY: I don’t think it has changed my reading at all because I always carry a book with me. If I get to rehearsal 15 minutes early, I read. If I take the subway, I read. If I have to see a doctor, I read there for 15 minutes.
BOOKS: What are you carrying around these days?
GREGORY: Generally I read about six books at once. This last week I was finishing a beautiful novel called “The Furies” by Janet Hobhouse. She was a protégé of Philip Roth’s. I’ve also been reading the poetry of Louise Gluck. I’ve begun a tremendous biography about someone I thought wouldn’t interest me, Teddy Roosevelt. I’m reading the first book in the three-volume set by Edmund Morris.
BOOKS: What made you pick that up?
GREGORY: I was very tired from opening the play. When I’m very tired I find nonfiction more refreshing than fiction. I love political biographies anyway. One of my favorite books of all time is the four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro. I’ve read that twice. I’m just hoping he’s still with us for the fifth volume.
BOOKS: How do you pick books?
GREGORY: I go to certain people for advice. If I’m up against the wall I’ll call Joan Wickersham, whose latest, “The News from Spain,” I’ve read twice. I often call Debbie Eisenberg, too. I read very few books of short stories but I’ve read everything that she writes. I think she is our greatest short story writer.
BOOKS: Do you read much contemporary fiction?
GREGORY: I’m not crazy about the mostly new, young, hotshot, male American writers. It might be generational. An American writer I adore is Philip Roth, especially two or three of his later books, “American Pastoral,” “The Human Stain,” and “The Ghost Writer.” I think he’s inadvertently become the great historian of the United States, writing about the real America even though it’s fiction. “American Pastoral” is a definitive book about the 1960s. I’ve read it three times.
BOOKS: What other books have you reread?
GREGORY: “Sister Carrie” by Theodore Dreiser. It’s one of my very favorites. I just read it a couple of weeks ago for the second time. It not only stood up but had a very different meaning from the first time I read it. I will sometimes reread books I liked in college, like Dostoevsky, but I generally don’t like them as much as I did. I reread “Brothers Karamazov” again and found it rather boring. It’s not the book. It’s us. We change.
BOOKS: What were you reading during your travels in Poland that you talked about in “My Dinner with André”?
GREGORY: I read people like St. John of the Cross, who’s astounding. I was into the mystical writers.
BOOKS: Do you read anything like that now?
GREGORY: No although I’ve read Pema Chodron. She’s a Buddhist who’s written staggeringly helpful books, particularly for when you go through hard times.
BOOKS: You went through a hard time recently. What did you read while you were treated for cancer?
GREGORY: In the film there’s a scene where I’m getting chemo and reading a book on Adolf Eichmann. My wife always jokes about the fact that I would go to Hawaii, sit on the beach under palm trees and read about Stalinist trials or Trotsky.
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