Known for his memoir Searching for Bobby Fischer, Waitzkin is a New York-based writer whose articles and essays have appeared in Esquire, Forbes and New York Magazine. He is also an avid fisherman, and his first novel, The Dream Merchant, to be released this month, starts in the Bahamas and takes the reader deep into the Brazilian jungle. We caught up with Waitzkin, who holds a degree in English from Kenyon College and a master's in English literature from New York University, by phone from his home office in Manhattan.
What's on your nightstand?
The Train by Georges Simenon. It's about a man's unusual love affair that takes place at the beginning of the Occupation in World War II. His family is fleeing, and on a train he gets separated from his wife and daughter, and he sees this foreign-looking woman and he's drawn to her. They have a love affair in the midst of this boxcar. It's oddly erotic, touching and so unlikely. The other one is This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. It's short stories linked together. He's just a gorgeous writer. I've been dumbstruck by the sensuality of his prose. And finally, I also have a book of poetry, Divine Madness by Paul Pines. He is great, but somewhat unrecognized. He writes about the basics of life, food, sex, aging, dying, and he does it with an insight that is thrilling. And, he connects his insights of the moment with mythology. He moves through time and is so graceful.
Although you've written all your adult life, The Dream Merchant is your first novel. Were there novelists that you studied to help you transition to fiction?
I've always been a lover of literature, and actually, I started off writing short fiction, so no, I wasn't reading particular novels. One thing I've always done, though, is read books that would be useful to me. If I were writing a sea story, for example, I might read Joseph Conrad or Jack London. For this book, for sure, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad was an influence. It was always one of my favorite novels.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.