In his new essay collection, “Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country,” Steve Almond tracks Trumpism to its roots — our cultural delusions. The Boston-area writer has written eight books of fiction and nonfiction, including the bestsellers “Candyfreak” and “Against Football.” His essays and reviews appear in numerous publications, and he hosts The New York Times advice podcast “Dear Sugars” with fellow writer Cheryl Strayed.
BOOKS: Do you ever get questions about reading in “Dear Sugars’’?
ALMOND: My favorite thing to do is to talk about books in the podcast. To someone struggling with a friendship that has abruptly ended, I’ll suggest reading Tim Kreider’s essay collection “We Learn Nothing” or Ann Patchett’s “Truth and Beauty” or John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace” or John Irving’s “ A Prayer for Owen Meany.” People find incredible consolation in reading stories that aren’t their own but somehow are their own.
BOOKS: Is there one book you refer to a lot?
ALMOND: I try to mix it up. We just had an episode about kids becoming independent of their parents, and I had just read this amazing story in Lionel Shriver’s new collection called “Property,” and I was like, “You have to check out this story.”
BOOKS: Do you read books for guidance or comfort?
ALMOND: That’s what I’m constantly doing. I’ve read Per Olov Enquist’s novel “The Visit of the Royal of Physician” a number of times, Lorrie Moore’s story collection “Birds of America,” and Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Probably the one I read the most frequently is John Williams’ “Stoner.” Its one of those books you can keep going back at different stages in your life.
BOOKS: What did you read for comfort after the 2016 election?
ALMOND: The premise of my new book is that bad stories lead to bad outcomes. So I went back and read George Orwell, James Baldwin, and Ray Bradbury, also Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” to make sense of the larger human dynamics that we forget about in the hurly burly of the news cycle.
BOOKS: Once you were done with that what did you read?
ALMOND: I took a break. I read my friend Matthew Zapruder’s “Why Poetry?” I then read some of the poets he writes about very beautifully. That’s very nourishing, to step away even from prose and storytelling and into the immediacy and emotional urgency of poetry.
BOOKS: What are some of your favorite essay collections?
ALMOND: Two by Charles D’Ambrosio, “Loitering” and an older collection called “Orphans,” which can be hard to track down. He and his family have been through a lot, and he writes about it in an unflinching way. It’s what you look for in an essayist, that their mind and heart are at work on the page. That’s a mark of great essayists, such as David Foster Wallace or Joan Didion.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
‘My favorite thing to do is to talk about booksin the podcast.’
ALMOND: I’m reading “I Wrote This Book Because I Love You,” by Tim Kreider, a series of smart essays about the difficulties of love. I’m also preparing to lead a book club. For that I’m reading Denis Johnson’s “Jesus’ Son.” The book club is up in Gloucester at Duckworth’s Bistrot. About 40 or 45 people get together every month, and a different author will talk about a different book. I’ve done it a few times. The conversations are so deep. Us writers are so easily swayed by what we read, but civilians can be just as passionate as readers. When we read “Stoner,” one guy said, “Stoner is a loser.” And then someone stood up and said, “I think he’s all of us.”
BOOKS: What is the last book that really moved you?
ALMOND: John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” a beautiful, courageous book about what it’s like to be displaced, poor, and at the mercy of the government. The final scene still chokes me up because it’s about what happens when everything is taken from you. That is the kind of thing that reading is there to remind us of.
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