Why Michael Ian Black Doesn’t Like Mystery Novels

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Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I have read so many spy books it’s stupid. So, so many. They’re just action movies without pictures. I love them. I tend to avoid mysteries because they make me too anxious. Once the crime has been established, I don’t have the patience to wait for the detectives to figure out who did it. Just tell me who did it. But then, of course, you don’t have a book.

How do you organize your books?

This has been a whole, annoying source of frustration for me because we’ve got different sets of bookshelves in three different parts of our house. In my office, I keep books about writing, my collection of poker books and an 18-volume dictionary from 1919 I picked up at (again) the library bookfair. In our family room, I’ve got alphabetically organized fiction and my interior designer wife’s design books. Out in the Frogbox, which is a room above our detached two-car garage, I’ve got nonfiction organized by subject matter.

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

I was going to say my Ayn Rand books, but I think I threw them out a while ago.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

This is kind of a stretch because it wasn’t exactly a gift, but I happened upon a garage sale in Los Angeles about 20 years ago. Lying on a blanket on the grass was a first edition of Doyle Brunson’s “How I Made Over $1,000,000 Playing Poker,” one of the first poker books to discuss strategy in a meaningful way. The book was later retitled “Super/System.” It’s worth a couple hundred bucks, but I only paid a dollar for it, so it felt like a gift.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine?

T. S. Garp from John Irving’s “The World According to Garp.” I just fell for him hard when I first read the book in my early 20s. I’m not even sure why. I just loved the slightly puzzled quality with which he took in the world, a quality I’ve always felt pretty acutely. The world is a puzzling place, and it always seems like there are people better-equipped to understand it than ourselves. Garp was the first protagonist I read who seemed to inhabit precisely the same confusing headspace I live in.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I read a lot. I read all of Judy Blume, all of Beverly Cleary. All of the C. S. Lewis Narnia books. My favorite series, though, was “The Great Brain,” by John D. Fitzgerald. It’s the story of two brothers in the Utah Territory in the last part of the 19th century. The older one is a genius who helps the townspeople solve problems, the narrator of the stories is the younger brother, more of a dreamer, who admires his older brother but is also somewhat jealous of his extraordinary abilities.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

They change from month to month. I’ll go through long periods where I’m only reading literary fiction, then long periods where I’m only reading spy books and thrillers, then I might get into biographies or books about politics or something. I’m rarely reading across genres in any given moment.

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