Saturday, March 4

Duchovny, Lover of contemporary novels — unless he’s writing - March 3, 2017

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David Duchovny, the actor best known as Agent Fox Mulder on the “X-Files, a novelist, and now a recording artist, once thought he’d be an English professor. “I have a little more than a master’s and a little less than a PhD, whatever that thing is,” he says. Duchovny was recently in Boston for a concert and a reading of his second novel, “Bucky [Expletive] Dent,” which explores family bonds and the rivalry between Yankees and Red Sox fans.

BOOKS: Who were your favorite writers when you were an English major?
DUCHOVNY: At Princeton I wrote my junior paper on Virginia Woolf, and for my senior thesis I wrote on Samuel Beckett. I wrote some about “Between the Acts” and “Mrs. Dalloway’’ but mostly about “To the Lighthouse.” With Beckett I focused, perversely, on his novels, “Molloy,” “Malone Dies,” and “The Unnamable.” That’s when I decided I should never write again. I think it was W.H. Auden who said he was lucky that his first favorite poet was Thomas Hardy, who was a good but not a great poet, because if you are exposed to the greats too soon it can just squash you as a writer.

BOOKS: Did you burn yourself out on those writers or do they still hold your interest?
DUCHOVNY: I don’t know if Beckett is something you ever bring to the beach — get out of the water, towel off, and start reading some of “The Unnamable.” Although, because it’s the kind of book you can open to any page and start reading, it is beach reading in that way. But I would say recently I’ve gotten back to perusing Beckett’s novels. Listening to the way Donald Trump speaks without saying anything has made me think about language.

BOOKS: How have you changed as a reader over the years?
DUCHOVNY: Oddly, becoming an actor made me way more interested in plot, which is not what you talk about at the post-graduate level. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become a devotee of 19th-century authors, such as Charles Dickens and George Eliot.

BOOKS: Do you also read contemporary novels?
DUCHOVNY: Yes. I’m a big Philip Roth fan. I think “American Pastoral” is the great American novel of the past 30 to 40 years. It’s a novel about what happened in the 1960s, and I think America is still dealing with what happened then. It’s devastatingly sad.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
DUCHOVNY: I’m not reading currently because I’m getting revisions of a novel. If I read while I’m writing I will unconsciously plagiarize and go to jail. I will read biographies or autobiographies while I’m writing, but mostly I put books in a to-read queue, like Rachel Cusk’s new novel, “Outline.” I also watch a lot of really bad television when I’m writing, “Like Dancing With the Stars,” with my daughter.

BOOKS: Have your roles influenced your reading?
DUCHOVNY: I think not so much with the “X Files,” maybe with “Californication.” The character was partly based on Rick Moody. I read him and Jay McInerney, the templates for this bad boy novelist.

BOOKS: Since you are a sports fan do you read about sports?
DUCHOVNY: I just reread “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton, the father of all sports books. Aside from that, and books like “Out of Their League” by Dave Meggyesy, sports books generally pull their punches. When I was a kid I ate sports books up, like “Winners Never Quit” by Phil Pepe. That was like my bible.

BOOKS: Did you cultivate reading with your kids?
DUCHOVNY: I tried but it’s difficult. We read to them. I think they enjoy reading, but it’s a different world now. There are a lot of competitors for the imaginative attention. TV was the boogey man when I was growing up. Video games are the boogey man now. The novel was once a boogey man. Books about lowborn people doing lowborn things were once considered a real assault on people’s morals. Maybe some day video games will be looked on as a good thing, but personally I don’t see it.

AMY SUTHERLAND

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