Chris Colfer "By the Book" Interview in the New York Times Sunday Book Review
What book is on your night stand now?
My first novel, “The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell,” embarrassingly. I promise I’m not actively reading it; I just reference it from time to time while writing the sequel. And like any new parent, I like to keep my child close by so I can keep an eye on it through the night.
What was the last truly great book you read?
I recently skimmed through “Bad Cat,” a picture book filled with adorable photos of cats in compromised and suggestive positions, and witty comments. I’m not ashamed to admit it was the best book I’ve read in a long time and I would recommend it to anyone. It kept my attention; I laughed out loud.
I thought about a bunch of political, classical and current titles to say instead, in hopes to impress, but it would have been a lie. Unfortunately, unless I’m adapting or editing something I don’t get much time to read for pleasure, which also made the quick read of “Bad Cat” a great selection at the LAX bookstore I purchased it from.
A young aspiring actor wants your advice on what to read. What books do you suggest?
It depends where they’re at in their career. There are plenty of books about perfecting or suffering for the craft written by actors who have never worked, but in my opinion reading about history or psychology is more beneficial. To me, acting is the study of circumstantial human behavior as well as the art of deception and portrayal. So naturally, the more exposure you have to variations of human behavior, the better actor you’ll be, in my opinion.
I’m not sure the performance part of acting can be taught in a book, though; that’s something I believe you learn through experience and experience alone. I’d also pick up a Los Angeles traffic guide for driving around to auditions, and a self-help book on rejection if the auditions don’t go well. Trust me, those will come in handy.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
“The Prince,” by Niccolo Machiavelli. I think anyone in an authoritative position should read it. Even if you don’t agree with its principles, it’s amazing how relevant something written 600 years ago is to today’s society.
Also, an atlas! I’m not so worried about the current one but I do think every president should have an atlas in their possession.
What was the last book that made you cry?
It was probably something like “Marley & Me.” I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to reading; I can read books about genocides or diseases and become angry or upset but am able to keep my emotions in check. However, if something happens to the family pet in a novel I cry like a baby. I do recall crying at the end of the last Harry Potter book too, as it marked the end of an era for me.
I tear up after the completion of my own novels as well. It just takes me back to when I was in elementary school and my parents got called into meetings with teachers because I wasn’t reading and writing at the level I should have been. I’m not sure if I’ve improved since then, but at least I’m writing books now.
The last book that made you laugh?
“Wishful Drinking,” by Carrie Fisher, comes to mind. There are so many “I’m so wonderful” autobiographies but I love painfully honest authors who aren’t afraid to say, “I was a mess!”
The last book that made you furious?
Any book I was forced to read in my high school English classes — but that was never the author’s fault. Having a writer’s mind, I always changed the story in my head as I read it. Consequently, I always tested horribly because I couldn’t remember which was the real plot and the one I had made up.
I also hated how the curriculum behind required reading sometimes regulated a wrong and right character or plot point to sympathize with. There’s a reason the word interpretations is plural — you can’t tell me I’m wrong for siding with Claudius in “Hamlet.”
What were your favorite books as a child? Did you have a favorite character or hero?
Like four billion other children, I loved the Harry Potter series. We all could identify with the boy who lived under the stairs. I don’t care if it’s cliché, I’ll go to my grave praising J. K. Rowling for giving my generation a childhood and teaching the world to believe in magic again.
I also loved the “Chronicles of Narnia,” anything by Eva Ibbotson, Bruce Coville, or Roald Dahl, and all the classics like “Peter Pan,” the Oz books and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” I still prefer those books to anything as an adult, actually.
Have you ever written to an author? Did he or she write back?
When I was 12, I wrote a very long letter to J. K. Rowling thanking her thoroughly for writing the Harry Potter books. I may have also accused her of being a real witch and insisted she take me with her the next time she traveled into the wizarding world. I was sent a “Dear Friend” letter and autographed photo back from her fan club and proceeded to sleep with them under my pillow for months after.
I also wrote to Gregory Maguire whenever I finished reading one of his books (that I was way too young to be reading). I remember getting personal responses back from him and his letters always ended with “Cheers!”
You’re inviting three writers to a literary dinner party. Who’s on the list?
I know this is a great opportunity to drop names like Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens and validate my status as an author, but they wouldn’t be my top choices. You know Hemingway is just going to drink too much, Woolf would just sulk in the corner and, if his books are any indication, Dickens probably would talk all night. I’d much rather have authors like Harper Lee, Truman Capote and Jackie Collins over for drinks, who I’m assuming would be a blast.
If you could play any character from literature, who would it be?
That’s a difficult question. I’ve always been teased for my resemblance to Pinocchio, but I’d hope for anything where the character gets to go on an adventure of sorts, because that’s what reading has always been for me. However, I’d also take the male equivalent of Sophie in “Sophie’s Choice” any day. Am I too old for “The Phantom Tollbooth?”
What are you planning to read next?
“What Remains,” by Carole Radziwill, who was kind enough to sign a copy for me. I still have “The Casual Vacancy,” by J. K. Rowling, to look forward to, and eventually I’ll get around to reading “Stardust,” “The Hunger Games” and all the untouched autobiographies and books I’ve been meaning to reread that are sitting on my crowded shelves at home. The biggest annoyance about writing books is that it gets in the way of reading books.
Also, I hear there is a “Bad Cat 2” I’ll have to look into.
New York Times