I enjoy the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs. Famous people choose eight songs they can take with them to a desert island. Here are my eight things(s).

Books, of All Kinds, that Have Knocked Me Out

1. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

2. My Sunshine Away, by M.O. Walsh

3. The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller

4. Blindness, by Jose Saramago

5. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

6. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

7. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

8. An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard

9. The Great Fire, by Shirley Hazzard

10. The Remedy for Love, by Bill Roorbach

11. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

12. Charming Billy, by Alice McDermott

13. Atonement, by Ian McEwan

14. What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, by Laura van den Berg

15. Jim the Boy, by Tony Earley

16. Stop-Time, by Frank Conroy

Songs That Don’t Get Old

1. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” The White Stripes

2. “Dry the Rain,” The Beta Band

3. “Sulk,” Radiohead

4. “Holiday,” Weezer

5. “Use Me,” Bill Withers

6. “Sweet Adeline,” by Elliott Smith

7. “Blackbird,” Beatles

8. “B.O.B.,” Outkast

9. “Beeswing” by The Futureheads

10. “Wednesday Night Melody” by Bleached


1. Citizen Kane

2. The Royal Tenenbaums

3. Drive

4. Heaven

5. The Departed

6. The Station Agent

7. Stranger Than Fiction

8. Wet Hot American Summer

9. Barbara

Things I’d Write About If I Had All the Time and Skill

1. A secret group

2. A boy or a girl who’s got a passion he or she shouldn’t necessarily have. I’m talking like a black kid who’s into punk rock. Or a girl from West Virginia who’s into, I don’t know, Bollywood character actors.

3. A straight-up hero’s journey.

4. A fake memoir. I guess you could also just call this a first-person novel. If there’s enough narrative motherfucking tension, that is. (As of February 1, 2017, have begun reading Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes.)

5. Poetry. Just kidding. No, I’m not. Yes, I am. I don’t know. Sometimes I really want to do this. But I’m no poet.

6. Has anyone ever written a made-up behind-the-scenes story about a fake event? A made-up All the President’s Men? A made-up (well, more made-up) In Cold Blood? I guess World War Z is in this vein. I’d like to do one of these, then. Perhaps about that secret group. How it came about.

7. OK. I think I’d just like to write something along the lines of World War Z. But without zombies and the war part. I don’t need to be that ambitious.

8. A love story set in the ruins (not made-up) of a major American city. Detroit, or one of the blown-out parts of my own town. I’ve always liked love stories set against the ruin of war and I think post-industrial decay is the closest my own life has come to blitzed London. (Parts of Atonement blew me away.)

9. Something about the persistence of kindness or at least tenderness among people in a time of sustained awfulness.

10. Something about the kind of person who spends a ton of money on a custom-designed house (as in a Frank Lloyd Wright house) but for a bunch of reasons (delays) is unable to actually live in it. Somehow this reminds me of Steven Millhauser.

11. Just a long chase. Just a chase. Page one: chase. Page 110: chase. Page 330: chase.

12. Two boys who are best friends, from little kids to adults. I feel like this has been done before. Brideshead Revisited, maybe? Anyway, they are nice to each other, they betray each other, there’s a girl. Something about that.

13. Something about the terrific, awful lengths people will go to for a quick bunch of money. Thinking specifically of drug mules but this could be anybody, doing any number of dangerous or morally corrupt things.

14. A story where a man or a woman chooses between a woman or a man who’s been loyal and one who catches his eye.

15. Something primal: heavy snow, or terrible heat, a man and a woman, hunger, food, water, danger, blood. Cicadas, little children, thirst, maybe a chase.

16. A situation in which strangers are thrown together and forced to form a family.

17. A bad-future story in which the characters have very limited supplies of everything, including books and music and movies, and so they cherish what little they have.

18. A first-person, highly unique-to-the-situation story, where the narrator is relating the story in snips and bits and which leads to a moment of transcendence. (Just heard someone read Donald Barthelme’s “The School.”)

19. A not-so-secret group. The BBC show The Detectorists really tickled me. The Baltimore Birding Club, or something like that. Stakes relatively low but not to the people involved.

20. A curious, uncool outsider trying to insinuate him or herself into a secretive, compelling group (Emma Cline’s The Girls.)

21. Something about the gaps between the levels of athletes and what that actually looks like: regular people who have a good day now and then, good amateurs, low-level pros, and the best of the best.

22. A novel about a boy and a girl who are best friends and who spend all their time together. They get older and things happen to them as they become adults. It’d be a love story.

Things That Are Engrossing

1. The World Cup

2. Novels

3. One’s children (I’m told)

4. Hobbies that you’d do in a garage

5. The story of how something (anything?) came about.

English Words that Sound Good

1. stone fruit

2. sudden death

3. point of no return

4. dirt merchant

5. raspberries

6. Amelia Earhart

7. nightcap

8. Eastern Seaboard

9. pizzeria (still counts)

10. iced beer

11. footpath

12. street clothes

13. major league pop-up

I Often Wish I Had the Ability to Write Just about Charged Little Moments and Here Are Some of Those

1. A hot bath after being very cold for a long time.

2. A 120-degree wood-stove fire on one side of the body, 0-degree cold on the other.

3. A humble meal after being hungry for a long time.

4. Someone saying to someone else: “I know who you are.”


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