Reading Habits: Matthew Sullivan

The author of “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” is sticking with paper books over e-readers. “Because I’m a 1970s kid and still associate screens with playing the Atari 2600.”

Reading Habits is a recurring series that asks authors, artists, community leaders, and others about their lives as readers. Matthew Sullivan is the author of the novel Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Lit Hub, Joyland, The Masters Review, and many other places.

 

A book you’re reading right now.

Rachel Cusk’s Transit, which is one of those literary novels where “nothing happens” (the protagonist buys a house, meets with her contractor, gets her gray hair dyed…) but it’s a smart, beautifully written book, somehow riveting.

Your favorite place to read.

Late at night in bed, unplugged.

Your least favorite place to read but you often end up reading there anyway.

My office at the community college in Moses Lake where I teach. It is The Land of Interruptions.

You’re banished to a desert island. For reading material you’re allowed to take the complete works of just one author. Who is it?

Joyce Carol Oates? Orhan Pamuk? Zadie Smith? John Updike? One of those insanely prolific authors who does it all—fiction, criticism, poetry, politics, memoir…

A book you’ve read more than once. 

Whenever I teach a book I reread it. A few that hold up really well are Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin, Over Tumbled Graves by Jess Walter, Othello by Shakespeare.

What you’re holding when you read: a paper book or an e-reader.

Still holding paper. Because I’m a 1970s kid and still associate screens with playing the Atari 2600. They mess with my attention span.

A book that changed your life in a significant way.  

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut or Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. I read them both back to back when I was 19 and my mind exploded.

You become the librarian for the entire world. As part of your newfound powers, you get to require everyone on earth to read one book. Which one, and why?

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. Because those stories are mellow and healthy and sometimes absurd.

A book that was better than the movie.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

A movie that was better than the book.

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy.

A book you found too disturbing to finish. 

Being Dead by Jim Crace, a beautiful novel about a pair of bodies decomposing on a beach. I was reading it on 9/11/01 and just couldn’t pick it up again.

Do you write in the margins?

If I’m reading a book that I know I’m going to teach, I go haywire in the margins, marking up so much that it becomes unreadable and totally defeats the purpose. But it helps me to formulate my thoughts.

Where you buy most of your books.

Because we live in a small town, my wife and kids and I always seek out indie bookstores when we travel and stock up for the season. I love how a good indie feels carefully curated by humans, not stocked via algorithm.

Are you a library user? If so, what’s your favorite?

Yes! I love my local library in Ephrata. Aaron, our librarian, does so much to get people through the doors, like hosting music and programs for local kids. I walked past recently and there were 40-50 kids’ bikes parked out front… how cool is that?!

A genre you think is underappreciated.

A lot of smart genre fiction gets a bad rap because it’s too “plotty.”

Longest number of hours you’ve ever spent reading something. What was it?

I was a procrastinating English major in college, so I read plenty of books in marathon fashion, all night before they were due. The Coquette comes to mind. Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Silas Marner. I don’t know how I was able to pull it off. Those days are long gone…

Matthew Sullivan reading an original short story as part of Bedtime Stories Spokane, Humanities Washington’s annual literary fundraiser. More at humanities.org.