John McNally is the author of two novels (The Book of Ralph and America's Report Card) and two story collections (Troublemakers and Ghosts of Chicago). He has edited six anthologies of fiction and essays. His next novel, After the Workshop, will be published in 2010 by Counterpoint. His short stories have appeared in over seventy magazines and anthologies, including Virginia Quarterly Review and New Sudden Fiction (Norton). He also writes screenplays. A native of Chicago's southwest side, he presently lives and teaches in North Carolina.
what are you reading now
I'm a slow reader, so I tend to read several books at once to keep from getting bored.
A Way of Life, Like Any Other: A Novel by Darcy O'Brien
The Cider House Rules: A Novel by John Irving
Jimmy Stewart: A Biography by Marc Eliot (I'm always reading at least one film-related book.)
I'm also reading about a dozen books for research purposes. These probably don't count, but the most interesting one of the batch is Challenging Chicago: Coping with Everyday Life, 1837-1920 by Perry R. Duis.
classic you’ve been meaning to read
Sadly, there are dozens. If I started naming all of them, I would probably get my college degrees revoked. I was a total slacker when I was an undergrad. For my Shakespeare class, I went to the library the day before the final and checked out all of the albums of the plays that I was supposed to have read. In those days, there was a room full of turntables and headphones, so I sat down and began listening to the albums, but as time started running out, I had to change the speed of the album from 33 1/3 to 45. It took a while to adjust to the higher pitched voices, but I managed. That is, until the final two hours when, panicking, I turned the speed from 45 to 78. At this point, all of Shakespeare's characters sounded like The Chipmunks, and nothing at all made sense. All I could tell was that everyone died at the ends of the tragedies. Amazingly, I passed the class. Barely. And when I returned to school to work on a Ph.D., I went out of my way to take Shakespeare courses as a kind of penance.
But if I had to pick only one classic...
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
last book to make you laugh out loud
The novel I'm reading right now -- A Way of Life, Like Any Other by Darcy O'Brien -- has some funny stuff in it, but I have to confess, it takes a lot for me to laugh out loud. The writer that will do it every time for me, however, is Charles Portis, and my favorite book by him (and, in my opinion, his funniest) is Masters of Atlantis. I love this friggin' novel! Love it!
book you borrowed and never returned
I'm dutiful about returning books to friends, so probably none. But watch: I'll probably get a dozen emails after this appears, demanding that I return books I've borrowed.
most treasured book in your collection
A signed 1st edition (the rare 1st state) of Eudora Welty's The Bride of the Innisfallen. The first state had the wrong copyright information. I bought it at a garage sale in Nebraska for five bucks.
best book you’ve read so far this year
Safer by Sean Doolittle. Sean is a friend of mine who writes thrillers that have been praised by Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos. The publisher wants Safer to be his breakout book. It deserves to be.
favorite neglected book by a celebrated writer
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
book you’ve planted on a coffee table to impress someone
I have a lot of art books, like Dali, that I periodically put on my coffee table, as though I'm some kind of art aficionado, when in fact I don't know jack-shit about art.
best american short stories, pen/o. henry prizes, or the pushcart prize anthology
Best American Short Stories. I have a sentimental attachment to BASS because they're the first of those anthologies I bought when I started trying to write short stories. I still remember reading the 1985 Gail Godwin volume on an Amtrak train when I was returning to Chicago from Carbondale, Illinois one holiday.
collected stories of
if you could subscribe to only one literary journal
Alaska Quarterly Review. I like good magazines that are underdogs. And I forgive them for rejecting everything I've ever sent to them. (Damn you, AQR!)
best thing you’ve read online recently
This one's tough. As soon as I read something online, I can't remember where I've read it, and in many instances, I can't remember what it is I've read. I'm really old school when it comes to reading. I love books. I love everything about them -- the dust jackets; the quality of the pages; the publisher's colophon; the author photo. When I read stuff online, it's almost always very short pieces or lists like this one. Or interviews. I read a lot of interviews online. Or news stories about dumb people. I think the Internet was invented for news stories about dumb people. Or Wikipedia entries. Last night I was watching the 1945 David Lean movie Brief Encounter. The background score is Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18. But all of a sudden it started sounding, note for note, like Eric Carmen's "All by Myself”. WTF? After the movie, I typed in "All by Myself" in Wikipedia, and sure enough, Carmen had used Rachmaninoff's music thinking it was in the public domain. But it wasn't in the public domain, and so he had to come to an agreement with the Rachmaninoff estate. And so this is probably the best thing I've read online recently: the Wikipedia entry for "All by Myself" by Eric Carmen.
most anticipated upcoming release
Richard Russo, That Old Cape Magic
recommended reading list:
A Short List of Serious(ly) Hilarious Literature
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Here Lies by Dorothy Parker
- The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor
- A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
- The Dog of the South by Charles Portis
- Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis
- Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
- Who's Irish? by Gish Jen
- Pastoralia by George Saunders
- Little Children by Tom Perrotta
Top it off with Ian Frazier's short piece "Coyote v. Acme" and then kick back with the DVD of Triumph: The Insult Comic Dog.