What are you wearing, Bruce Brooks?

Bruce Brooks, who won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1985 for his first novel, The Moves Make the Man, is a longtime friend with whom I've had many memorable cd-shopping sprees over the years, most recently in Berkeley, CA, where he lives with his wife Ginee Seo, children's publishing director of Chronicle Books. Of today's ensemble, Bruce says, "I'm hoping that Richard Avedon will take my picture for Diana Vreeland's Vogue."

1. As a writer, you're used to working/being at home. What is most different for you under the current restrictions?

All of my books I wrote in my bedroom, in apartments from Iowa City to Brooklyn. I’ve always been the on-duty at-home parent/cook/driver-to-hockey-practice, so my chance to work came while my sons Alex (36), Spencer (29), and Drake (14 today!) were in school. I am still at home today...but I am not (Vincent Price voice)—alone. Ginee is set up in MY kitchen for her 10-hour Zoomish workdays; Drake reads on his phone and plays computer games in his room; I COULD technically work in my familiar bedroom...but I guess I work best all on my lonesome, commanding the emptiness. I don’t give a hoot:  our collective work at the moment is ‘easygoing harmony’ and that’s a lot better than typing.

2. I'm asking everybody else what they are watching, but it's us, Bruce! What are you listening to? (I've been getting into Mompou.)

I don’t watch much of anything.  We dropped our cable service three years ago.  Ginee and Drake are keen for movies now that we are snugged up, but I feel claustrophobic when spectacles blare and blast in my living room (movie soundtracks are just awful, with or without the pictures) so it’s back to the bedroom for moi. I read and do crossword puzzles. Last year I discovered the Saturday puzzles in the NYT, and since then have gone backwards through the online archive; I’m in mid-June 2016 at the moment.  

But I do play records in the house, as you know from our many years visiting Tower Records together in whatever city hosted ALA or IRA or NCTE.   (Remember the skeezy opera section in the Las Vegas store?  Pathetic.) However, now, with civilians in the house, I can no longer go full Messiaen/Penderecki/Birtwistle up to 11 on the volume, so...I fall back on the bizarre euphonies of my true favorite composer Erik Satie. I made a playlist from 20 Satie records, from four-hands piano stuff to oratorios, and it goes down a treat at any time of day. Brian Eno is kinda today’s Satie, and I play some of his electronic meanderings as well, to get the youth vote.

3. And who are you reading?

My dad died of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  Since then I am a sucker for all of those articles with titles such as, “Seven Signs that Dementia Is Knocking On Your Door...”   In a fit of phobia about shedding my neurons, two years ago I decided that reading books in English was insufficiently challenging to my wits on this-or-that technical level of cognition, so I switched to reading books in French (which I never spoke fluently, but I read fairly well). I started with the fabulous biggies from Jules Verne, and now make a point of reading whatever I find on the French shelves in Berkeley’s used-books shops. Houllebecq! George Sand! Proust! Hugo! I also love reading French translations of authors I know well in English, such as PG Wodehouse, Harper Lee, Wilkie Collins, and Gibbon, of all people. The translation of Gibbon into French is a masterpiece! Current book: La Septieme Fonction du Langage by Laurent Binet.

4. What do you miss most from the former world?

Since 2017 I have pretty much given up driving in town here. Instead, I walk everywhere, for errands, dentist appointments, anything. On weekdays (alone, with Drake in school), I was knocking off 13-15 miles every day (9-10 on weekends when my inconvenient loved ones interfered). In the two years 2018 and 2019 I clocked more than 7,000 miles. And as I strolled around, I enjoyed a random, spontaneous social life, chatting up peeps I met in stores, on sidewalks, in the dentist’s waiting room.  All of that livin’ is on ice now. That’s fine. My legs are ready whenever the veil is lifted.

5. When we can go anywhere again, where will you go?

Ginee travels a lot for her publishing work, but Drake and I are California boys now.  Why go anywhere, eh? However, we will probably make a trip to New York when that is on the board again. Alex just got married at City Hall in Manhattan two weeks ago, cancelling a big June wedding. His wife Tiffany is fabulous, and we want to celebrate with them.

Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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