In his new novel, “Who Are You, Calvin Bledsoe?” Brock Clarke found inspiration in a favorite novel: Graham Greene’s “Travels with My Aunt.” In Clarke’s, though, the aunt is a criminal mastermind. Clarke, who made a big splash with “An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England” is the chair of the English Department at Bowdoin College. He’ll read from his book at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Print in Portland, Maine, as well as on Sept. 13 at Porter Square Books and Sept. 20 at Newtonville Books.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
CLARKE: I’m in North Carolina at a beach house. I don’t bring books with me because I want to read the stuff I find at the beach houses we rent, to play book roulette. I found an Agatha Christie Miss Marple mystery called “The Murder at the Vicarage.” She’s so goofy and great. Sometimes the sentences are terrible but often they are funny. There’s a huge compendium of Miss Marple mysteries here, luckily, because this place is also full of Tom Clancy. That I can’t read.
BOOKS: What was the best beach house find?
CLARKE: At one house there was Raymond Chandler’ “The Big Sleep” and a Ross Macdonald, the title of which I can’t remember. On e year I found John le Carré’s “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.” The thing about reading on vacation is it allows you to ignore the people you’re with when they start getting on your nerves. But it has to be a good book. Otherwis e you get doubly annoyed.
BOOKS: What was your last best read?
CLARKE: “French Exit” by Patrick deWitt, a novel about this dissolute son and mother who go on the run from New York to Paris. It’s like a P.G. Wodehouse novel but darker and more affecting.
BOOKS: How would you describe yourself as a reader?
CLARKE: Impatient. I give a novel no more than 50 pages to grab me. I go through stretches when I feel cursed or that there’s something wrong with me as a reader. I’ll put down five, six, seven novels in a row. Then I often reread to get out of the rut.
BOOKS: Who do you reread?
CLARKE: Muriel Spark, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Saul Bellow, more recently Paul Beatty or Joy Williams. They are all writers who are not properly realistic and not properly experimental. Kazuo Ishiguro is another. In order to do this thing he does he has to risk being bad. James Wood of The New Yorker wrote about “The Unconsoled” that it invented its own category of badness. It did but I still loved it.
BOOKS: What wouldn’t you pick up?
CLARKE: I’m not a reader of historical fiction. It often seems over-researched. The books that most resemble the ones I write I tend to be the most impatient with. I’m less cranky about fiction that tends to be quiet and more realistic.
BOOKS: Who are some of your favorites in that category?
CLARKE: I’ve always liked William Maxwell, the master of quiet Midwestnerness. I liked “So Long, See You Tomorrow” and his early novel “They Came Like Swallows.” Paul Harding’s “Tinkers” is another. I was surprised I liked that book so much.
BOOKS: When did you start reading Graham Greene?
CLARKE: When I was 14 my father suggested I read “The Power and the Glory,” his brooding novel about catholic guilt in Mexico. I hated it and wrote off Greene. Later, someone recommended “The End of the Affair” and I liked it a lot more. It was funny. “Our Man in Havana” meant a lot to me. So did “Travels with My Aunt.” So I reread “The Power and the Glory.” I still hate it.
BOOKS: Did you grow up in a house full of books?
CLARKE: Yes. My father and grandfather were English teachers. We were a family of readers but no one made a big deal of it. They were just a nice fact of life. Also, I discovered at a young age that if you are reading a book people will not ask you to do something. But if you are looking at a screen they will.
BOOKS: What are you reading next?
CLARKE: As long as I’m on vacation I’ll be reading Miss Marple mysteries.