Small talk: Shalom Auslander

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Born in 1970, Shalom Auslander draws heavily on his upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish community near New York. His writing is also influenced by the broader sweep of Jewish history, as seen in his first work Beware of God (2006), a short story collection. This was followed a year later by Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir. Auslander has published his work in Esquire, The New York Times, The New Yorker and Tablet magazine. He is married with two children and lives in New York State.

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When did you know you were going to be a writer?

I still haven’t decided that I’m going to be.

Who is your perfect reader?

Someone well-read, intelligent, handsome, fit, hilarious, worldly wise – myself, essentially.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Erasmus: Ecstasy and the Praise of Folly, by MA Screech; The End of Illness by David Agus; Ronald Green’s Nothing Matters; Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller by Tracy Daugherty.

What book changed your life?

Unfortunately, the Old Testament – and not for the better.

Who are your literary influences?

Gogol, Beckett and Kafka are the writers. The non-writers are Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks and al-Qaeda. It’s not just book people.

What is your writing routine?

I get up, go to my office with incredibly high hopes and goals, achieve none of them, download some porn, go home and try not to take my failure out on my wife and children.

Where do you write best?

My office in an old factory building. It’s a loft space. I can’t write if things are perfect; I need filth.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do when researching a book?

For Hope: A Tragedy, I had to find out if there was any truth to the contention that the Nazis had made lampshades out of people.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Nobody. The idea of being stuck somewhere for three hours alone – I’d kill for that. I’d finally get some peace and f***ing quiet.

What are you scared of?

Mostly interviews that require snappy, immediate answers.

When do you feel most free?

When I’m writing or when I’m with my kids. They’re different types of freedom.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

It was from my shrink, who told me to stop speaking to my parents.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

Probably “The Scream”. Something I can put on the ceiling.

What are you most proud of writing?

Whatever I’ve written last. When I write something new, I’m ashamed of the thing I did before. Pride has a very short shelf-life.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’d be a politician. I have the ability to be utterly craven and immoral. I would use my natural skills of heartlessness in a financially remunerative way.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

A place near my home called Poets’ Walk Park, over the Hudson River. There you can almost imagine a world without mankind in it.

Shalom Auslander’s first novel is ‘Hope: A Tragedy’ (Picador)

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