Book Brahmin: Steven John

Steven John spent five years working in Hollywood at a top talent agency before he decided to become a full-time novelist. Born in Alexandria, Va., he now lives near Los Angeles with his wife. His first novel, Three A.M., a dystopian noir thriller, was recently published by Tor.

On your nightstand now:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and Journey to the End of the Night by Céline. How I wish I could sit down for that proverbial beer with Campbell and pick his brain for hours. And how I would fake a cold to get out of the beer with Céline. Great writer--don't get me wrong--but cheer up a bit, man.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Anything and everything by Brian Jacques. My father reading those books to us as children (replete with funny voices et al.) had a profound impact on my own reading and later writing.

Your top five authors:

Faulkner: I can't stand when people speak ill of him; what stellar prose. Henry Miller: he opened my eyes to pretty much everything. Hemingway: maybe an obvious choice but with good cause. Vonnegut: I admit I have not read him in several years, but I have read and re-read more of his books than any other author (it helps that this can be done in a single day without breaking a sweat). Flaubert: I have read only Madame Bovary so far, but I can hardly believe he created that book with, essentially, not a single modern novel from which to take cues. He is the giant upon which other giants stand.

Book you've faked reading:

I talk about The Brothers Karamazov like I finished it, but frankly after 400 pages, I had given it enough time. I'll try again some year.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Anna Karenina. So very worth your time and effort. Tolstoy puts into perfect prose thoughts we have all tried in vain to put into even muddled understanding. And he does it dozens and dozens of times.

Book you've bought for the cover:

War and Peace. It wasn't that the cover attracted me, exactly (it was red leather with gold print), but more that I wanted others to see the cover. On my shelf. Hey, I was 17. And no, I still haven't read it.

Book that changed your life:

Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. I'm sure thousands and thousands of people would say the same. They'd all be right.

Favorite line from a book:

Near the start of Tropic of Cancer Miller writes this line that I have never been able to shake from my head: "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." Now, granted, I think he may have been just a bit, say, ironic there... but what a take on it all.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

For Whom the Bell Tolls. Knowing the end makes each re-read all the more bittersweet. The closer you come into communion with Robert and Anselmo and the rest... well, I'll leave it alone in case others still have the pleasure of a first-time read ahead of them.

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