Against Bullshit

When you see the world aright, every road leads to Damascus.

In case you’re wondering, there are eleven kinds of readerly desire. There’s pleasure, always a powerful motive, and humor and curiosity and insight. Then there’s change or enlightenment or spiritual transformation, call it whatever you’d like. I’d name the six remaining types of desire, but as you can see, it’s not always easy to call things by their right name. Besides, when you behold the crown jewel of readerly desire—grace without God—you lose interest in numbers, in counting this, that, or the other thing. Instead, you search for a book that entangles you in the world and makes you better for it. Which brings me to this week’s guest. Meet Warren. In the long ago, Warren had a conversion experience while coming through a field of golden rye…

Who are you?

I am a super physically active person, so when I am not moving, I am reading. How many peoples’ reading habits destroy their romantic relationships? I wonder. I have been skateboarding for about 25 years. My friends and I have traveled all over the world in search of new skate spots. Mexico, Europe, Russia. Addicted? Confirmed. Surfing for about the same time. Addicted? Guilty. Extended wilderness trips backpacking, kayaking, cycling. My friend and I rode our bikes from the west coast to east coast the summer of 2007. I hiked 170 miles of the John Muir Trail in the Sierras solo. Spent two weeks of autumn in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior kayaking and camping. I recently swam from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park for a South End Rowing Club event.

Do you read on your adventures?

During my travels, I always have a book with me. Sometimes I will take something like Jack London (Martin Eden, Smoke Bellew, The Call of the Wild, Burning Daylight, The Sea Wolf) or Hemingway (For Whom the Bells Toll, Islands in the Stream, To Have and Have Not). These are some of my favorites of all time. Other favorites include Hemann Hesse, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Maxim Gorky, Edward Abbey, Steinbeck. God the list goes on. A guilty pleasure of mine is to take a fantasy/sci fi book as well. Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, Robert Howard’s Conan, George R.R. Martin. That stuff will blow your mind when you are alone at night in a tent and two days walk from civilization.

As a backpacker, your gear better have dual purposes. What’s the most creative use to which you’ve ever put a book, besides reading it?

Most times I use the books I bring along for a pillow and a camera stand. Sometimes I might use the endpages as fire starter. Have you ever read the Count of Monte Cristo? One time I used that beast to guy out my tent after I lost some tent stakes.

Working at one of the finest used book stores in the Bay Area, where you see hundreds of thousands of books, how the hell do you decide what to read next?

Well, you ever notice how books seem to find you? It’s like that except books are like wolverines, and you are stuck in the snow with no place to hide. Actually, I just keep my eyes and ears open. Say that a person brings in three boxes of books to sell. Well, if I start seeing books that I have read, I start looking at the other authors and titles they have. Bingo. Sometimes regardless of subject matter, I’ll read the first page and if I like the writing style, that’s all it takes. Style is what gets me.

Any recent wolverine attacks?

Have you ever read Kirby Wilkins? He teaches at Cabrillo College. Vanishing is a collection of his short stories that points a crooked finger at the futility of existence, and laughs in its face. He has style for miles. Another fantastic author I recently read is an Everyman’s Library collection of novels by Richard Yates. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, The Easter Parade, and Revolutionary Road. This is easily the best stuff I have read this year. You have got to check this guy out. He will kick you in the balls and then make you grateful for it. Great, great stuff.

Is the bookstore your library, or do you squirrel books away at home?

Working in the bookstore is absolutely brutal for my financial status in this world. I spend a money weekly in order to feed my habit. But, believe it or not, I do not collect books. I have maybe 20-30 titles at a time that I trade in or lend out (you never really get books back, do you?). Sharing is caring.

If you could meet a character on the halodeck, who would it be? And what would you do?

It’s a toss up between Jack London’s character Burning Daylight, racing across the Alaskan tundra on a dog sled to the next gold stake; Rafael Sabatini’s Dr. Peter Blood on the high seas, or Robert Howard’s Conan, sneaking into some evil sorcerer’s castle to rescue a kidnapped princess.

What’s one of the most important lesson you’ve learned from reading?

That’s a tough one. I guess aside from teaching me how to relax and let go of all the bullshit, reading has taught me to see the world with my imagination. If you turn your back on imagination, you lose it.

Apropos of Salinger’s death, when did you first read Cather in the Rye? What kind of impact did it have on you? And what do you remember most about it?

Oh man, Salinger. I was 25. I actually read Nine Stories before any of his other books. After the first story, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” I was hooked. I read the Catcher in the Rye along with Franny and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, that same week. Holden Caulfield, with his sarcastic, bitter voice, became an instant hero of mine. He made me want to walk away from everything. To be free. To thumb my nose at society and its inane rules. In a way, I did. I quit my job, I ended a two-year relationship, I moved to another house. I vowed to live differently—and did. Mr. J.D. Salinger, for the well being and integrity of the literary world, I hope, when they bust open his vault, they find nothing, except maybe a picture of him showing the world his middle finger.

Why do you read?

I think books have kept the wheels turning and my imagination hungry for the next adventure. This is why fiction lures me in. It is the adventure. The thought that it just might be real. The feeling, that you don’t know what is around the next corner. It might be the love of your life or the Grim Reaper in a recliner tipping a pint.

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5 Responses to Against Bullshit

  1. Colleen says:

    Great interview! I keep hearing about Yates lately so I’ll take this latest as a sign that I’d better obey.

  2. Sasha says:

    What I love best about this awesome interview? “You have got to check [Richard Yates] out. He will kick you in the balls and then make you grateful for it.” Best rec of an author ever. Not to mention, I very much agree.

  3. Nancy says:

    There grows a warm fuzzy feeling inside knowing the books that shaped my youth are stilling impacting the youth of today! Thanks for sharing Warren.

  4. Jason says:

    You’re the man Warren. Let’s add climbing a mountain to that lofty list of adventures. You can read “Touching the Void” and I’ll read “Into thin Air” along the way to the summit.

  5. Donna says:

    I just felt the huge pulses of energy pouring out of Warren when I read this…wow..I’ve been wanting to read Yates for awhile…now it is on my “to purchase” list. Thanks for the awesome interview Kevin!!

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