Ronson, 45, is known for such books as The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry and The Men Who Stare at Goats, which became a George Clooney movie. In his latest collection, Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, Ronson once again delves into some of the odder corners of society — from a pop star's pedophilia trial to lifelike robots programmed with loved ones' personalities. We caught up with Ronson, who also writes for the Guardian and contributes to This American Life, as he made his way to LaGuardia Airport to catch a flight home to London.
What's on your nightstand?
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. I loved it. It's a Western. It's like a funny No Country for Old Men, and it's also very dark and brilliant. He's got this thing where he can put a whole lifetime in one sentence. He's got a kind of brevity. He shows you can have a tremendous amount of power in a very few words. I'm also reading Jennifer Egan's A Visit From the Goon Squad. She is really ambitious, and it's different from what I normally like.
Have you spent time in Florida?
I have spent a lot of time in Florida, particular in Clearwater, where I visited the Scientologists while I was writing The Psychopath Test.
How did that go?
When I was working on Psychopath Test they were very helpful to me at that time. But I didn't have quite as good an experience when I contacted them later, when I did a piece on Stanley Kubrick and his wife, Christiane. I contacted them again to speak with Vivian Kubrick, their daughter who had joined Scientology. They didn't want me to speak to her, and I saw the other side of them that people talk about.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
About 18. It wasn't that I wanted to be a writer so much, but it became clear that it was the only thing I was good at. In fact, I didn't want to be a writer because I imagined the life to be lonely. I thought I'd be sitting alone in a room, which I realized quickly was the truth.
What authors were you interested in early on?
I loved Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Carver. In fact, it was Vonnegut who tipped me off about the life of a writer. He said it was a miserable life. And when you read Carver, you learn about writing simply, and you don't have to try to dazzle people with clever words. Sometimes it's what you don't say.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer