Charlie Kaufman Is Sorry, He’s a Bit Distracted


Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

I fear being alone in this apartment for so long is adversely affecting my mental health. I talk to myself a great deal now, but tend not to listen to what I say. I’m like an old married couple. Sometimes I ask myself, Are you even listening? And I say, Yes, of course. Then I snap, OK, well what did I just tell you? I take a guess (at this point I know myself pretty well, so it’s worth a shot), but I immediately storm out of the room, so I know I was wrong. I wish someone would write about this.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid.

Everyone loves a mystery. For my money, the best of that genre is the Japanese mystery and the best of the Japanese mysteries is “Dogra Magra,” by Kyusaku Yumeno. This 1935 novel by the unrivaled master of surrealism finds an amnesiac awakening in a clinic, attended by two doctors who tell him he’s killed his wife. Did he? Are the doctors playing a cruel game? The point is it’s impossible to know, especially in the only English language version, which seems to have been translated by a drunk computer. And this is what makes the book so delicious, as it adds another dreamy layer of incomprehension to the already mysterious story. Here’s a taste:

The girl across the wall knows me. It is my wife. … And I was killed by my hand the night before I had a wedding with me. And the wall with meSingleFor a momentIn a room across the streetCloseWhenTimeBasketThisIt seems that they are calling me, not at night, but not at night.

This novel ticks off all my boxes.

As for a genre I avoid? Anything with a dog as the narrator.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I don’t have shelves currently, but the autobiography of Donald Trump. It’s called “Dreams From My Father” and it is the best book I’ve ever read, as it brilliantly encapsulates the present. Like a tooth infection, it narrows one’s focus to the interminable now. And this book wasn’t ghostwritten. Consequently, it exists as a stew of half-thoughts, distracted notions, flailings, bullying and self-aggrandizement. Take the opening:

A few days after my 53rd birthday — I had a tremendous party, by the way — a stranger called to give me the news. I was living in New York in Trump Tower — they tell me Trump Tower is the most beautiful building in New York. Everyone wants to live there. They call me in secret to tell me that — Not only did I live there, but it has my name on the top. I am Donald John Trump, President of the United States. And this is my story. Trump Tower is between 56th and 57th Street on 5th Avenue, the richest block, by far, they say in New York City. It is very great, close to great restaurants, great shopping, stores, great Central Park, which I renovated the ice skating rink of for free. It was a gift to the people of New York. But it was a beautiful renovation. Everyone says so. And I took no credit. New Yorkers ice skate there, of all races. African-American, Puerto Rican, China.

“It is Madonna,” said the stranger on the phone, “and it’s 1999, so I’m still pretty young now, only forty, so I’m not yet an embarrassment for you to have sex with. Your father Fred Trump, great New York real estate man, not as rich as you, died and I want to have sex with you.”

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from a book lately?

“Jenny barn” is an archaic term for “whorehouse.”

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

I’m sorry, what? I’m a bit distracted. I’m fairly certain I just swallowed a tooth.

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