In “Gumption,” actor Nick Offerman, of “Parks and Recreation” fame, writes about 21 Americans who best exemplify his book’s title. To that end, Offerman got to meet his longtime favorite writer, Wendell Berry; he even drank tea at the author’s kitchen table.
BOOKS: Which are your favorite Wendell Berry books?
OFFERMAN: I first read his short-story collections, “Fidelity” and then “Watch with Me.” They just knocked my socks off. The characters and the fellowship of the small town reminded me of my own small town in Illinois. Then I discovered that, much like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, that all of Berry’s fiction was centered in this same town. It was like when you hear your first record by The Who, and you realize there are hours of pleasure in front of you. Not only do I recommend Berry to anyone who will talk to me for more than seven seconds, but I buy his books in quantity and send them to people. I bought a few dozen of his newest, “Our Only World.”
BOOKS: Have you always liked reading serials?
OFFERMAN: I guess so. When I was a kid, I lived in this small town way out in the country. We had three TV channels and one radio station. I couldn’t even get my hands on good comic books. My aunt, who is a librarian, gave me Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie,” and Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia.” They were such incredible treasures to have in my somewhat mundane country life. Then to know there was volumes two, three, and four.
BOOKS: What other serials have you read?
OFFERMAN: In recent years I have really enjoyed graphic novels. I like Ed Brubaker and Garth Ennis, among others. I won’t read a new graphic comic novel until the writer has completed the entire series. I got burned a few times when I got turned on to a book, plowed through it only to find out the author was in the middle of writing the next.
BOOKS: What other writers would you have liked to include in your book?
OFFERMAN: First and foremost Walt Whitman. It’s funny. I feel like his spirit is present in the book even though he didn’t make it in himself. Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote “A Wrinkle in Time,” was one of the last chapters to be cut. I’m crazy about her delicious science fiction series.
BOOKS: Do you read more fiction or nonfiction?
OFFERMAN: It’s about even. My wife, the actress Megan Mullally, was an English major at Northwestern University and loves fiction. Like so many things in my life, she curates things for me. For example, I have the daunting prospect of Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” waiting for me when I get through my current reading pile.
BOOKS: What’s in your reading pile?
OFFERMAN: It’s stacked up with a bunch of stuff I came across while researching my book but didn’t have time to read, such as some Teddy Roosevelt books. I have read a couple of Edward Abbey’s novels, and I’m really hot on him now so I have some of his books. I just started Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes a Great Notion,” which I’m really digging. I just met this great writer D.T. Max, who wrote “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story,” a biography of the writer David Foster Wallace. I’m really excited to dig into that. My boss on “Parks and Recreation,” Mike Schur, is in that book because he had an avid correspondence with Wallace when Mike was running National Lampoon.
BOOKS: Given what a devoted Bears and Cubs fan you are, do you read about sports?
OFFERMAN: Not so much. I made an executive decision in college when I learned how behind I was in the world of books, films, and music because of my rural upbringing. I really reduced the amount of time that sports took up in my life. I’m 44, 25 years since I made that decision, and I’m still catching up. I still have some Faulkner to get through.
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