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October 26, 2012 7:10 pm
Thomas Frank, 47, is the founding editor of US magazine The Baffler and author of a number of books. A former Wall Street Journal columnist, he now contributes to Harper’s, The New York Times and The Nation.
What was your earliest ambition?
From the ages of five to 10 I admired, in succession, baseball players, air force pilots and cartoonists.
Public school or state school? University or straight into work?
I went to what are called “public schools” in America, which means they are owned and operated by local governments – in my case, the Shawnee Mission School District, Johnson County, Kansas. Then on to university, and only then, begrudgingly, to work.
Who was or still is your mentor?
I don’t have a mentor – I’m too difficult for that. I’ve always thought that the writer I’m closest to in terms of instinctive defiance to prevailing tastes would have been H.L. Mencken, but of course I never knew the man.
How physically fit are you?
I jog, which in theory is supposed to make up for the many hours I spend sitting in a chair and all the bourbon and scotch I pollute myself with.
Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?
Ambition, I hope.
Have you ever taken an IQ test?
If you wanted to go to university when I was growing up, you pretty much had to take what was then called a Scholastic Aptitude Test.
How politically committed are you?
Very, but since I’m committed to a politics that is not on the table in America, I usually just come off as a scoffer.
Do you consider your carbon footprint?
I try not to be wasteful. Almost everything I own is second-hand; much of it is older than me.
Do you have more than one home?
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
The must-have vanity item these days is a presidential candidate. The candidacies are largely being underwritten by very wealthy people. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have one of your own?
What’s your biggest extravagance?
In what place are you happiest?
Kansas City, my home town.
What ambitions do you still have?
To turn down a really important prize.
Eyeglasses; an onion; a rib-eye steak; a battered paperback.
What drives you on?
A fascination with paradox and irony. It’s definitely not a faith that my political views will one day triumph; the experience of the past few years has ended any hopes in that regard. Irony and paradox are what’s left to us.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Winning the East Kansas National Forensics League high school debate championship, 1982.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
How to choose? I signed up for a life of disappointments: organised labour, Liberal Democrats, academia, print journalism – every one of them either a failure or near collapse.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
“Who is this commie?”
If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?
I would probably change sides. The right needs a few able polemicists – the bunch they’ve got now are so dreadful – and everyone knows they pay much better than the liberals.
Do you believe in assisted suicide?
I suspect that’s some sort of nasty comment on my literary output, and therefore I refuse to answer.
Do you believe in an afterlife?
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
An eight, relative to the life I could have lived. Much lower relative to others’ lives.
‘Pity The Billionaire: The Unlikely Comeback of the American Right’, by Thomas Frank, is published in paperback by Vintage
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