Discover more from Beyond with Jane Ratcliffe
(Not) Too Weird To Be Popular
The Body, Brain, & Books: Eleven Questions with Austin Kleon
What are you reading now?
This summer I’ve been reading big ol’ novels. I finally read Don Quixote and absolutely loved it, and now I’m reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. I discovered a multi-media approach to both books that really helps me sink into them: I read the paperback or ebook in the pool and at bedtime, and then I listen to the audiobook on walks or while working in the studio.
What are your most beloved books from your youth?
I loved reading collections of newspaper comic strips. Especially those thin, landscape paperback collections like Garfieldand Far Side that I’d check out from the bookmobile. I still love reading them — I don’t love reading comic books and graphic novels as much as I love the experience of reading a bunch of strips in a book, collected masterpieces like like Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, or Tove Jansson’s Moomin comics, or Lynda Barry’s The Freddie Stories, or James Kochalka’s American Elf sketchbook diaries.
What’s your favorite book to reread? Any that helped you through a dark time?
Whenever I need to really reset, I like to re-read Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Portis novels. I have an abridged version of Thoreau’s diary published by NYRB classics that I’ve probably read two or three times — I like to read what Thoreau wrote on today’s date. And this might sound conceited, but re-reading my own diaries helps me through dark times, because they help me remember how cyclical my life is, how often I’ve already been before where I am now, and how “this, too, shall pass.”
What’s an article of clothing that makes you feel most like you?
Anything worn out and in need of repair.
What’s the best piece of wisdom you’ve encountered recently?
I turned 40 this summer, so this advice from writer John Higgs came at the perfect time: “You should never waste your midlife crisis. You can do great things with a midlife crisis.”
Tell me about any special relationship you’ve had with an animal, domestic or wild?
We bought a little bungalow here in Austin, TX during the first year of the pandemic, and around New Year’s Eve in 2020, we found an eastern screech owl living in one of the palm trees in our back yard. So we had an owl house built and hung up on a pecan tree in our back yard. We’ve had owls come and go every winter since then, but this year, a pair of owls stuck around and had owlets in the spring, and I watched them every day, and tracked them from newborns to fledglings. If all goes well, the owls will return around Thanksgiving and we’ll do it all over again. (Anybody who wants to relive these adventures can do so here: https://austinkleon.com/tag/coconut-the-owl/ )
What's one thing you are happy worked out differently than you expected?
My career! I assumed everything I cared about was too weird to be popular and that I’d always have a day job. The fact that I have readers and make a living from the stuff I make is a blessing beyond belief and every week I try not to squander my luck.
Singing in the shower or dancing in the kitchen? Or another favorite way your body expresses itself?
Singing in the shower is great. A good bike ride through the city on a spring day is heaven.
What are your hopes for yourself?
I’d like to keep my family together and raise my boys into adults who are “publicly useful and privately happy.” Anything else is gravy.
What’s a kindness that changed your life?
When I first got out of college, I drew the novelist Dan Chaon at a reading in the basement of Mac’s Backs in Cleveland and posted it on my blog. He emailed me and we discovered we lived in the same neighborhood and wound up meeting for coffee a few times. He invited me to come see this cartoonist named Lynda Barry read from her book Cruddy and I got to sit at the bar with them afterwards and I swear a huge seed of my career was planted in those two hours. He was very kind to me… and I wonder if now he regrets it! (Laughs.)
What’s a guiding force in your life?
I’m a big quote collector and during the pandemic, I made a zine full of quotes called Angry and Curious, which included a quote by Henry Rollins: “I am angry and curious. These two things propel me forward.”
This often surprises people because my books are seen as positive and encouraging, but they almost always come from a place of disgust with some part of the culture. (There’s a good line in Dune: “What do you despise? By this are you truly known.”)
I am angered by so much in the world, but then I’m extremely curious about what the opposite might be. I seek out the opposite of what angers me, and I try to amplify it in my work.
***is the New York Times bestselling author of a trilogy of illustrated books about creativity in the digital age: Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work!, and Keep Going. He’s also the author of Newspaper Blackout, a collection of poems made by redacting the newspaper with a permanent marker. His books have been translated into dozens of languages and have sold over a million copies worldwide. He’s been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, PBS Newshour, and in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. New York Magazine called his work “brilliant,” The Atlantic called him “positively one of the most interesting people on the Internet,” and The New Yorker said his poems “resurrect the newspaper when everybody else is declaring it dead.” He speaks for organizations such as Pixar, Google, SXSW, TEDx, and The Economist. In previous lives, he worked as a librarian, a web designer, and an advertising copywriter. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and sons. Visit him online at www.austinkleon.com
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Meet me in the comment section
Have you read any big books lately? What are your hopes for the kids in your life? What do you try to amplify? Any favorite quotes?