In the Spotlight
Urbana, Illinois Member Since: 2010
About: Alex Shakar’s first novel, The Savage Girl, was selected as a New York Times Notable Book and has been translated into six foreign languages. His story collection, City In Love, was the winner of the FC2 National Fiction Competition. A native of Brooklyn, he teaches fiction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and lives in Chicago with his wife, the composer Olivia Block. His newest novel, Luminarium, was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction in 2012.
If you could be any literary character, who would you be?
Siddhartha? One can dream. But (speaking of dreamers) I guess I identify more with Alyosha, or Prince Myshkin.
What book could you read again and again?
Hopscotch, by Julio Cortázar. How to describe it: words fail. (Come to think of it, that’s precisely how, but oh, too, how they succeed.) Begin on chapter 73. Proceed to chapter 1...
What is the first book you loved?
Franny and Zooey. But before that, I remember as a middle-schooler loving I Am The Cheese,by Robert Cormier
What is your guilty pleasure book?
I can get into a good self-help book. Even the crazy ones I can read with fascination. I’m fascinated by the ways people construct reality and by attempts to rewrite our programming.
What are you reading right now?
The Instructions, by Adam Levin
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from literature?
When coming across Middle Eastern fellow on beach: Pocket sidearm. Quit Gitanes. Go watch lolcats. (Maybe there have been some other lessons, too.)
Do you own an e-reader? How has it changed your relationship to books?
Yes. But the real change has been audiobooks. Takes me back to the childhood pleasure of being read to. The bad: can’t make notes. The good: can’t make notes!
What does your writing space look like?
Meditation cushion. Table with the legs sawed down and a keyboard tray bolted on. Laptop. Dostoyevsky poster.
Describe your process.
There’s the scientist—inside me, I mean—who tries to map everything out. There’s the mystic, who sets off on his own when maps fail, which they always do. The two of them fight it out, work it out, get it on, switch places, see themselves anew.
What is your favorite thing to do when you should be writing but just can’t find the motivation?
Flaneuring. (Flaneur: 19th Cent. perambulating dandy). Or when I forget my monocle, just walk around.
When and where do you do your best work?
Dreaming. Or close to it.